RESPONDENT: John R. Novotny
LOCATION: Harrah High School
DOCKET NO.: 78-753
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
CITATION: 442 US 366 (1979)
ARGUED: Apr 18, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1979
Eugene K. Connors - for petitioners
Lawrence G. Wallace - argued the cause for the United States et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance
Stanley M. Stein - for respondent
Facts of the case
Media for Great American Federal Savings & Loan Association v. Novotny
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 18, 1979 in Great American Federal Savings & Loan Association v. Novotny
Warren E. Burger:
We'll hear arguments next in 753, Great American Federal Savings and Loan Association against Novotny.
Mr. Connors, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.
Eugene K. Connors:
Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.
This case is here on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
This case was brought under two federal statutes.
The first statute is Title 42 U.S. Code Section 1985 (c).
Previously it was codified as 42 U.S.C. 1985 (3) but it's more popularly known as the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 passed on April 20th of that year.
The second federal statute under which the suit is brought is Section 704 (a) the so-called retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It's a suit brought by a person named John Novotny, a former second ranking official in the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania Savings and Loan Association.
It was brought against the association and its individual officers and directors.
The facts alleged are that the association and its individual officers and directors discriminated against women in promotions and other aspects of employment.
Mr. Novotny allegedly protested against this at a board of directors meeting.
His Title VII cause of action is grounded upon the allegation that his subsequent discharge resulted from his protest at the board of directors meeting and therefore was opposition against a practice made unlawful within the meaning of Section 704 (a).
That cause of action incidentally was brought against both the association and the individual officers and directors.
The 1985 (3) cause of action is grounded upon the allegation that the individual officers and directors acting at all times on behalf of the association conspired to deprive women of their Title VII rights and they acted further into the conspiracy was Mr. Novotny's discharge.
A motion to dismiss in the district court was filed and granted as to both causes of action.
The Third Circuit however sitting en banc reversed this to both causes of action.
Certiorari was sought and granted only on the 1985 (3) cause of action.
Therefore, Mr. Novotny's Title VII retaliation cause of action against both the association and the individuals will survive irrespective of the outcome in this Court.
The issues as we see them are three, whether a depravation of Title VII rights is a depravation of equal privileges and immunities under the laws within the meaning of 1985 (3).
Secondly, whether agents of a corporation acting only on the corporation's behalf can conspire within the meaning of 1985 (3).
And thirdly and lastly, whether the Congress under 1985 (3) intended to reach sex discrimination in private employment through the Commerce Clause or otherwise.
The language in 1985 (3) material to this case grants a federal remedy when two or more persons conspire for the purpose of depriving a class of persons of equal privileges and immunities under the laws.
It grants this civil cause of action to a person injured in his person or property were deprived of any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States.
Moving to our first issue to determine whether Title VII grants equal privileges under the laws, we believe it's most appropriate to see what the effect of the Third Circuit's opinion is on the workings of Title VII which is the right allegedly being asserted under 1985 (3) here.
Through Title VII, Congress has created certain rights to be free from discrimination in private employment including for the first time effective July 2, 1965 sex discrimination.
At the same time, Congress created what in Section 706 is the exclusive procedure for asserting and enforcing this Title VII created rights.
According to Mr. Novotny and the Third Circuit however, 1985 (3) made Title VII's administrative judicial procedures permissive at the very moment of its creation.
A person deprived of any Title VII right whatsoever can bypass Title VII.
Congress has carefully designed, carefully thought out administrative judicial framework with its emphasis on conciliation and with specific time limits, deferral, provisions, all can be very easily subverted.