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U.S. Supreme Court

General Bldg. Contractors Assn., Inc. v. Pennsylvania, 458 U.S. 375 (1982)

General Building Contractors Association, Inc. v. Pennsylvania

No. 81-280

Argued March 3, 1982

Decided June 29, 1982*

458 U.S. 375


Respondents -- the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and several black individuals representing a class of racial minorities who are skilled or seek work as operating engineers in the construction industry in Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware -- brought an action in Federal District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, seeking to redress alleged racial discrimination in the operation of an exclusive hiring hall established in collective bargaining contracts between the local union representing operating engineers and petitioner trade associations and construction industry employers. Respondents also alleged discrimination in the operation of an apprenticeship program established by the union and the trade associations and administered by the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC), half of whose members are appointed by the union and half by the trade associations. Named as defendants were the union and petitioners. The District Court found that, although the hiring hall system was neutral on its face, the union, in administering the system, practiced a pattern of intentional discrimination, and the court also found similar discrimination in the JATC's administration of the apprenticeship program. On the basis of these findings, the court held that the union and the JATC had violated § 1981, and that, although petitioners as a class did not intentionally discriminate against minority workers and were not aware of the union's discriminatory practices, they were nevertheless liable under § 1981 for the purpose of imposing an injunctive remedy. The court reasoned that liability under § 1981 requires no proof of purposeful conduct on any of the defendants' part, but it was sufficient that the employers delegated the hiring procedure to the union, and that the union, in effectuating this delegation, intentionally discriminated or, alternatively, produced a discriminatory impact. The

Page 458 U. S. 376

court concluded that respondents had shown the requisite relationship among the employers, trade associations, and union to render applicable the theory of respondeat superior, thus making petitioners liable for the union's discriminatory acts. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. Liability may not be imposed under § 1981 without proof of intentional discrimination. This conclusion is supported by the legislative history. The fact that the prohibitions of § 1981 encompass private, as well as governmental, action does not suggest that the statute reaches more than purposeful discrimination, whether public or private. Pp. 458 U. S. 382-391.

2. The District Court was unable to find discriminatory intent on petitioners' part, and liability under § 1981 cannot be vicariously imposed on them based on the discriminatory conduct of the union or the JATC. Pp. 458 U. S. 391-397.

(a) There is no basis for holding petitioners liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior. The union, in operating the hiring hall, performed no function as the agent or servant of petitioner trade associations. Nor can the relationship between petitioner employers and the union be characterized as one between principal and agent without proof of a right to control the union's activities. Such a conception is alien to the fundamental assumption upon which the federal labor laws are structured, and was not established by the evidence on which the District Court relied. And there is no evidence that an agency relationship existed between petitioners and the JATC. The fact that the employers fund the JATC does not render the JATC the employers' servant or agent, nor does the fact that the trade associations appoint half of the JATC's members infer a right of the associations to control the JATC. Pp. 458 U. S. 391-395.

(b) Nor is there any basis for holding petitioners liable on the ground that § 1981 imposes a "nondelegable duty" on them to see that discrimination does not occur in the selection of their workforce. Section 1981 does no more than prohibit petitioners from intentionally depriving black workers of the rights enumerated in the statute, including the equal right to contract, and was not intended to make them guarantors of the workers' rights against third parties who would infringe them. Pp. 458 U. S. 395-397.

3. The District Court had no inherent power under its traditional equitable authority to allocate to petitioners a portion of the costs of the remedial decree, absent a supportable finding of liability upon petitioners' part. Nor does the All Writs Act constitute an independent basis for the injunctive portions of the District Court's order running against petitioners. There was no need to treat petitioners as strangers to the

Page 458 U. S. 377

suit, and therefore to rely upon some extraordinary form of procedure or writ to bring them before the court, since they were named as defendants and litigated the issue of injunctive liability. Pp. 458 U. S. 397-402.

648 F.2d 923, reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Parts III and IV of which STEVENS, J., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 458 U. S. 403. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 458 U. S. 405. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 458 U. S. 407.

Page 458 U. S. 378

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