Independent Federation of Flight Attendants v. Zipes

PETITIONER: Independent Federation of Flight Attendants
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida

DOCKET NO.: 88-608
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 491 US 754 (1989)
ARGUED: Apr 25, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1989

Aram A. Hartunian - on behalf of Respondents
Steven A. Fehr - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Independent Federation of Flight Attendants v. Zipes

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 25, 1989 in Independent Federation of Flight Attendants v. Zipes

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 88-608, Independent Federation of of Flight Attendants v. Anne B. Zipes.

Steven A. Fehr:

Thank you.

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

This case involves an award of attorney's fees pursuant to Section 706(k) of Title VII in favor of the settling plaintiffs and against a union when that union was not a defendant and intervened only because the settlement agreement would override the union's contract and impair the seniority rights and job security of its members.

Petitioner IFFA is the labor union which represents TWA's flight attendants.

In 1970, the union which formerly represented TWA's flight attendants filed charges in this class action suit challenging TWA's practice of terminating all flight attendants who became mothers.

The class was defined as all flight attendants so terminated from 1965 forward.

Two months later, the union successfully negotiated the elimination of the "no-mothers" policy pursuant to a new collective bargaining agreement.

The case was settled in 1971, but the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's approval of that settlement because of a conflict of interest it perceived between the union's obligations to the class members on one hand and its duties to represent the incumbent employees on the other.

And it was those same duties, of course, which brought about IFFA's intervention years later.

But, at that point, in 1973, the union and union counsel were replaced as class representative and class counsel by the parties and counsel who had brought that appeal.

In 1976, the district court held that TWA's policy was indeed illegal and that all plaintiffs had timely claims for the reason that TWA had engaged in the so-called continuing violation.

The Seventh Circuit reversed again in 1978, holding that while the policy was illegal, TWA had not engaged in a continuing violation, and that the claims of 92 percent of the plaintiffs were therefore time-barred.

In response to a secondary argument made by plaintiffs to the effect that TWA had waived its timeliness defense, the Seventh Circuit said that it need not address that issue because the Title VII time limit was a jurisdictional prerequisite which could not be waived.

The plaintiff sought certiorari on the jurisdictional issue only.

TWA cross-petitioned, but consideration of those petitions was deferred when the parties announced yet another settlement.

Pursuant to this new settlement, the class was divided into two subclasses; Subclass A consisting of the approximately 30 women with timely claims, and Subclass B consisting of the approximately 400 women with untimely claims.

TWA was to pay $3 million, one half to each subclass.

Counsel fees were to be deducted from the settlement fund.

Plaintiffs were to be able to regain their jobs and obtain a grant of retroactive competitive seniority from original date of hire through the date the settlement agreement was signed in 1979.

And, last but not least, the settlement agreement specifically purported to supersede prior, current, and future collective bargaining agreements.

At that point, in 1979, IFFA, which had come into existence in 1977, intervened to contest the grant of seniority to the class members because of the effect we believed that seniority would have upon the incumbents.

As part of our arguments, we contended that if in fact there was no subject matter jurisdiction over the claims of Subclass B, as the Seventh Circuit had already held, then the district court had no power to grant seniority to those individuals and override the collective bargaining agreement on behalf of those plaintiffs with jurisdictionally defective claims.

The district court overruled that argument, saying that it need not heed the opinion of the Seventh Circuit finding a lack of jurisdiction for the reason that it was not final.

The Seventh Circuit overruled us for an entirely different reason, holding that a district court need not have subject matter jurisdiction to issue orders pursuant to a settlement agreement.

IFFA petitioned for certiorari, and in March of 1981 our petition was granted on two issues, including the question of whether a district court had power to issue orders pursuant to a settlement agreement in the face of a holding by its court of appeals that jurisdiction was lacking.

At the same time, however, the court granted the petitions of TWA and plaintiffs which had been held in abeyance since 1978.

In the Zipes opinion in 1982, the Court chose not to decide the jurisdictional issue we had framed in No. 80-951 but, instead, decided that the Seventh Circuit had been wrong when it had previously held that the Title VII time limit was a jurisdictional prerequisite which could not under any circumstances be waived.

The Court went on to affirm the orders approving the settlement and granting seniority to the plaintiffs.

Now, the primary reason IFFA had fought the grant of seniority was that it feared that the TWA flight attendant work force was about to enter a period where it would not only not expand but actually significantly shrink.