General Telephone Company of the Northwest, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

PETITIONER: General Telephone Company of the Northwest, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
LOCATION: Congress

DOCKET NO.: 79-488
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 446 US 318 (1980)
ARGUED: Mar 25, 1980 / Mar 26, 1980
DECIDED: May 12, 1980

ADVOCATES:
James R. Dickens - on behalf of the Petitioners
Lawrence G. Wallace - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case

Question

Media for General Telephone Company of the Northwest, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 1980 in General Telephone Company of the Northwest, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 1980 in General Telephone Company of the Northwest, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear argument next in 79-488, General Telephone Company v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Mr. Dickens, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

James R. Dickens:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

I am James Dickens, of Karr, Tuttle, Koch, Campbell, Mawer & Morrow, in Seattle, and I represent General Telephone, the petitioner herein.

We have a very narrow procedural question before the Court.

It is very simple.

When the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brings a class action under section 706(f)(1) of the Civil Rights Act, does it have to comply with Rule 23, and we believe it requires a very short answer and that is yes.

William H. Rehnquist:

Let me ask you this, if I may, Mr. Dickens.

Why would EEOC bring a class action?

It is entitled to sue as a litigant.

I would have thought it could have gotten virtually all the benefits of its litigant status as a litigant on behalf of the government without denominating its action as a class action.

James R. Dickens:

Your Honor, the government has not in the prayer or in the complaint said that it is a class action, but by the scope of the complaint and the relief requested, we believe that it is clear that it is a class action.

They moved at the trial court level to bifurcate the issue of class liability from the issue of individual damages.

We then moved to dismiss the class action aspects of the case and they acknowledge that they were seeking relief for a class and that is what they are.

We believe this is the way the statutory procedure is set up, they are seeking relief on behalf of an individual plus on behalf of the class.

William H. Rehnquist:

But by definition there is no individual in any conceivable class that the EEOC could represent other than itself, is there?

James R. Dickens:

No, Your Honor, that is where we believe that what Congress has done in accordance with its power to supersede the federal rules in whole or in part, it has declared that the commission is a properly suing party and therefore to that extent they have superseded the requirement of Rule 23(a) that it be a member of the class.

As a consequence by statute we believe and we contend that Congress has made the commission a properly suing party under Rule 23.

Having taken that step, they are a properly suing party, it is the same as the Court has held, for example, in Hunt v. Washington State Apple Commission, associations, state agencies and so forth do have standing to bring suit on behalf of a class, even if technically they are not a member of the class.

Byron R. White:

Who are all the members of the class?

James R. Dickens:

The other members of the class, that would depend on two things.

First of all, we look to the charging parties.

We have four charging parties here.

They are four women employees at one facility out of 116 in one state out of five.

Now --

Thurgood Marshall:

Are they of the same class as the EEOC?

James R. Dickens:

I didn't say that.

There have been cases in the lower court --

Thurgood Marshall:

Doesn't a class action theory require that they all have the same claim?

James R. Dickens:

No, Your Honor, substantially --