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U.S. Supreme Court

Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U.S. 385 (1982)

Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc.

No. 78-1545

Argued December 2, 1981

Decided February 24, 1982*

455 U.S. 385


In 1970, the union then representing flight attendants employed by respondent Trans World Airlines, Inc. (TWA), brought a federal court class action alleging that TWA practiced unlawful sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by its policy of grounding all female flight attendants who became mothers while their male counterparts who became fathers were permitted to continue flying. Subsequently, individual members of the class (petitioners in No. 78-1545) were appointed as class representatives to replace the union, which was found to be an inadequate representative. The District Court later denied TWA's motion to exclude class members who had not filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within the time limit specified in Title VII, holding that, while such filing requirement is a jurisdictional prerequisite not subject to waiver, any violation by TWA continued against all the class members until TWA changed its challenged policy. The court also granted the plaintiff class' motion for summary judgment on the issue of TWA's liability for violating Title VII. The Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment and held that timely filing of EEOC charges was a jurisdictional prerequisite, but declined to extend the "continuing violation" theory so as to include in the plaintiff class those terminated employees who failed to file timely EEOC charges. However, the court stayed its mandate pending the filing of petitions in this Court, which, in turn, deferred consideration of the petitions pending completion of settlement proceedings in the District Court. In such proceedings, the District Court designated two subclasses: Subclass A, consisting of women who were terminated on or after March 20, 1970, and those who were discharged earlier but who had accepted reinstatement in ground positions, and Subclass B, consisting of all other members of the class, whose claims the Court of Appeals had found to be jurisdictionally barred for failure to satisfy the timely filing requirement. The flight attendants'

Page 455 U. S. 386

current union (petitioner in No. 80-951) was permitted to intervene and object to the proposed settlement. On the basis of the Court of Appeals' stay of its mandate in its jurisdictional decision, the District Court rejected the union's challenge to its jurisdiction over Subclass B. It also approved the settlement and awarded restoration of retroactive seniority. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting the union's contention that, because of the Court of Appeals' earlier opinion, the District Court lacked jurisdiction to approve the settlement or to order retroactive seniority with respect to Subclass B.


1. Filing a timely charge of discrimination with the EEOC is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit in federal court, but a requirement that, like a statute of limitations, is subject to waiver, estoppel, and equitable tolling. The structure of Title VII, the congressional policy underlying it, and the reasoning of this Court's prior cases all lead to this conclusion. Pp. 455 U. S. 392-398.

2. The District Court had authority to award retroactive seniority to the members of Subclass B as well as Subclass A. Pp. 455 U. S. 398-401.

(a) The union's contention in No. 80-951 that there was no finding of discrimination with respect to Subclass B, and thus no predicate for relief under § 706(g) of Title VII is without merit. The District Court found unlawful discrimination against the plaintiff class as a whole, at a time when the class had not yet been divided into the two subclasses, and the court's summary judgment ran in favor of the entire class. Since the Court of Appeals erred in ruling that the District Court had no jurisdiction over claims by those who had not met the filing requirement, and that those individuals should have been excluded from the class prior to the grant of summary judgment, there was no jurisdictional barrier to the District Court's finding of discrimination with respect to the entire class. Pp. 455 U. S. 398-399.

(b) Equally meritless is the union's contention that retroactive seniority contrary to the collective bargaining agreement should not be awarded over the objection of a union that has not itself been found guilty of discrimination. Class-based seniority relief for identifiable victims of illegal discrimination is a form of relief generally appropriate under § 706(g). And, as made clear in Teamsters v. United States, 431 U. S. 324, once there has been a finding of discrimination by the employer, an award of retroactive seniority is appropriate even if there is no finding that the union has also illegally discriminated. Pp. 455 U. S. 399-400.

No. 78-1545, 582 F.2d 1142, reversed; No. 80-951, 630 F.2d 1164, affirmed.

Page 455 U. S. 387

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which BURGER, C.J.,and POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment in part, in which BURGER, C.J.,and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 455 U. S. 401. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

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