Whirlpool Corporation v. Marshall

PETITIONER:Whirlpool Corporation
LOCATION:U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado

DOCKET NO.: 78-1870
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 445 US 1 (1980)
ARGUED: Jan 09, 1980
DECIDED: Feb 26, 1980

Robert E. Mann – on behalf of the petitioner
Wade H. McCree, Jr. – on behalf of the respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Whirlpool Corporation v. Marshall

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 09, 1980 in Whirlpool Corporation v. Marshall

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 26, 1980 in Whirlpool Corporation v. Marshall

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Whirlpool Corporation against Marshall, the Secretary of Labor will be announced by Mr. Justice Stewart.

Potter Stewart:

This case is here by reason of the grant of a petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 prohibits an employer from discharging or discriminating against any employee who exercises any right afforded by the Act.

The Secretary of Labor has promulgated a regulation providing that among the rights that the Act so protects, is the right of an employee to choose not to perform his assigned job because of a reasonable apprehension of death or serious injury coupled with a reasonable belief that no less drastic alternative is available.

The question presented in this case is whether this regulation is consistent with the Act.

On July 10, 1974, two of the petitioner’s maintenance employees, Virgil Deemer and Thomas Cornwell, reported for the night shift at the petitioner’s plant in Marion, Ohio.

Their foreman directed the two men to perform maintenance duties on a section of an overhead screen.

Claiming that the screen was unsafe, they refused to carry out this directive.

The foreman then sent them to the personnel office, where they were ordered to punch out without working or being paid for the remaining six hours of the shift.

The two men subsequently received written reprimands, which were placed in their employment files.

A little over a month later, the Secretary of Labor, filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, alleging that the petitioner’s actions against Deemer and Cornwell constituted discrimination in violation of the Act.

Following a bench trial, the District Court found that the regulation in question justified Deemer’s and Cornwell’s refusals to obey their foreman’s order.

The Court found that the two employees had refused to perform the cleaning operation because of a genuine fear of death or serious bodily harm, that the danger presented had been real and not something which had existed only in the minds of the employees, and that the employees had acted in good faith and that no reasonable alternative had realistically been open to them other than to refuse to work.

The District Court nevertheless denied relief, holding that the Secretary’s regulation was inconsistent with the Act and therefore invalid.

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the District Court’s judgment.

Finding ample support in the record for the District Court’s factual determination that the actions of Deemer and Cornwell, the employees, had been justified under the Secretary’s regulation, the appellate court disagreed with the District Court’s conclusion that the regulation itself is invalid.

It accordingly remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings.

We granted certiorari because the decision of the Court of Appeals in this case conflicts with those of two other Courts of Appeals on the important question in issue.

For the reason set out in detail and in some length in the Court’s written opinion, we agree with the Court of Appeals.

Accordingly, the judgment is affirmed.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Stewart.