W. R. Grace & Company v. Local Union 759, International Union of Rubber, Cork, Linoleum & Plastic Workers of America

PETITIONER: W. R. Grace & Company
RESPONDENT: Local Union 759, International Union of Rubber, Cork, Linoleum & Plastic Workers of America
LOCATION: Internal Revenue Service

DOCKET NO.: 81-1314
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 461 US 757 (1983)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 1983
DECIDED: May 31, 1983

ADVOCATES:
Carter G. Phillips - on behalf of Amicus Curiae
Laurence Stephen Gold - on behalf of Respondent
Peter G. Nash - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case

Question

Media for W. R. Grace & Company v. Local Union 759, International Union of Rubber, Cork, Linoleum & Plastic Workers of America

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1983 in W. R. Grace & Company v. Local Union 759, International Union of Rubber, Cork, Linoleum & Plastic Workers of America

Warren E. Burger:

We will now hear argument next in W. R. Grace Company against a Local of the International Union.

Mr. Nash, you may proceed when you are ready.

Peter G. Nash:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court, this case arises here on a petition for certiorari of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

It involves two arbitration issues in the tension between Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the seniority layoff provisions of a collective bargaining agreement.

In 1973, the EEOC investigated the company's plant in Mississippi and found that there was probable cause to believe that the company had discriminated in its hiring practices on the basis of sex.

In 1974, the company and the union which whom it had a collective bargaining agreement, bargained a new collective bargaining agreement.

At the time, both the union and the company knew of the EEOC's findings, knew that the EEOC was seeking a conciliation agreement which might disrupt the seniority layoff provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, but nonetheless entered into a new collective bargaining agreement, retaining--

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Nash, you said the union had notice.

Does that suggest or do you think that the union was bound by what the company agreed to with the EEOC?

Peter G. Nash:

--Not necessarily so, Your Honor, but that becomes relevant later on when we get to the argument about the court order that enjoined the company and the union, and whether or not that's a valid defense to a breach of contract action.

On December 11, 1974, the company and the EEOC entered into a conciliation agreement which changed or would change the layoff provisions of the collective bargaining agreement by providing that if there is a layoff in the plant, females must be retained in the workforce in the same percentage at the end of the layoff as they were at the beginning of the layoff.

The reason for that being to protect those recently hired female employees from layoff.

On December 19, 1974, the company had a layoff of some employees.

A few more were laid off in the early part of 1975.

The union filed grievances contending that those layoffs violated the collective bargaining agreement because some more senior men were laid off whereas junior seniority women were retained.

The company amended and then complained in the then present law suit seeking to enjoin the union from processing those grievances to arbitration, added the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as a defendant and sought a declaratory judgment from the court as to which should apply, the provisions of the EEOC conciliation agreement or the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.

William H. Rehnquist:

Was the intimation of the company's position that both of them could not apply?

Peter G. Nash:

That is correct.

William H. Rehnquist:

Why did the company take that position?

Peter G. Nash:

Because--

William H. Rehnquist:

The company can bind itself with the EEOC, and I should think still continue to be bound with the union.

Peter G. Nash:

--Possibly, sir, but there was a tension, and I think an admitted tension between the conciliation agreement and the collective bargaining agreement.

William H. Rehnquist:

I don't see where you get the concept of tension.

Employer A can make an agreement to buy 1,000 bottles from a contractor, and then he can go and make an agreement with another contractor to buy 10,000 bottles.

He may not be able to use both shipments of bottles, but he is bound to both of the people that he has contracted with.

Peter G. Nash:

That is correct, but I think we have different facts in this case, Your Honor.

First of all, we are dealing with a collective bargaining agreement and an EEOC conciliation agreement, neither of which have historically by this Court been treated as standard commercial contracts.

Secondly, we have in this case an EEOC conciliation agreement which was sought by the Equal Employment Opportunity in order for the employer to come into compliance with the law.

William H. Rehnquist:

Are you saying that the EEOC agreement under these circumstances binds the union?

Peter G. Nash:

If the union had notice, as it did, of the EEOC conciliation process, and if the union--