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U.S. Supreme Court

Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Transport Workers, 451 U.S. 77 (1981)

Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Transport Workers

Union of America, AFL-CIO

No. 79-1056

Argued December 2, 1980

Decided April 20, 1981

451 U.S. 77


In a class action brought against petitioner airline by a female cabin attendant employee, petitioner was held liable to the class of such female employees for backpay because wage differentials between male and female cabin attendants collectively bargained with respondent unions were found to violate the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After its postjudgment motions claiming contribution from the unions for a proportionate part of the liability were denied as untimely, petitioner brought a separate action in Federal District Court seeking such contribution. The District Court interpreted the pleadings as contending that petitioner had either an implied cause of action for contribution against the unions under the Equal Pay Act for discriminating against the class of employees in question or a federal common law right to contribution from the unions for a share of its Equal Pay Act liability, and that the petitioner's claim for reimbursement for its Title VII liability was based solely on a federal common law right to contribution. The court dismissed the claim for contribution based on petitioner's liability under the Equal Pay Act, but, denying the unions' motions to dismiss, held that there was a federal common law right to contribution for liability imposed under Title VII, at least under some circumstances, and that it would reach the issues as to this right when the facts were properly developed. Both the unions and petitioner appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal for contribution based on petitioner's liability under the Equal Pay Act, but declined to reach the Title VII issue, remanding to the District Court for determination of the unions' assertion that the Title VII contribution claim was barred by laches.

Held: Petitioner has neither a federal statutory nor a federal common law right to contribution from respondent unions. Pp. 451 U. S. 86-99.

(a) Even if it is assumed that all of the elements of a typical contribution claim are established in this case, that the policy considerations under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII favor the recognition of a right to contribution, that the unions bear significant responsibility for discriminatory practices that these statutes were designed to prohibit, and that chanrobles.com-red

Page 451 U. S. 78

there are circumstances in which an employer may be a "person aggrieved" by union conduct that would be remediable under Title VII, none of these assumptions provides a sufficient basis for recognizing the right to contribution asserted by petitioner. Pp. 451 U. S. 86-91.

(b) The language of neither the Equal Pay Act nor Title VII, both of which statutes are expressly directed against employers, supports implication of a right to contribution in favor of employers against unions. The structure and legislative histories of both statutes similarly do not support such an implied right. Pp. 451 U. S. 91-95.

(c) Whatever may be a federal court's power to fashion remedies in other areas of the law, it would be improper to add a federal common law right to contribution to the statutory rights that Congress created in the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. Cooper Stevedoring Co. v. Fritz Kopke, Inc., 417 U. S. 106, distinguished. A favorable reaction to the equitable considerations supporting petitioner's contribution claim is not a sufficient reason for enlarging on the remedial provisions contained in these carefully considered statutes. Cf. Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U. S. 807. Pp. 451 U. S. 95-99

196 U.S.App.D.C. 443, 606 F.2d 1350, affirmed in part and vacated in part.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except BLACKMUN, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. chanrobles.com-red

Page 451 U. S. 79


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