Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc.

RESPONDENT: Trans World Airlines, Inc.
LOCATION: White House

DOCKET NO.: 78-1545
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 455 US 385 (1982)
ARGUED: Dec 02, 1981
DECIDED: Feb 24, 1982

A. Raymond Randolph, Jr. - on behalf of the petitioners in no. 78-1545
Laurence A. Carton - on behalf of the Respondents
William A. Jolley - on behalf of the Petitioners in No. 80-951

Facts of the case


Media for Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 02, 1981 in Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Zipes against Trans World Airlines.

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

William A. Jolley:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the decision of the Seventh Circuit at issue in 80-951 affirms a district court order approving a settlement agreement between defendant, TWA, and plaintiffs who were former TWA employees.

Pursuant to that settlement, plaintiffs were granted full union or competitive seniority, despite the fact that the Seventh Circuit had previously decided that plaintiffs had failed to establish a violation of Title 7, despite the fact that TWA objected... excuse me, despite the fact that IFFA, the incumbent union, objected to that settlement, and despite the fact that the settlement overrides the seniority provisions of IFFA's collective bargaining agreement with TWA.

From at least the effective date of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and up until October of 1970, TWA maintained a policy of terminating all flight attendants who became mothers.

On May 30th, 1970, the first charge was filed with the EEOC challenging this practice.

In August of 1970, this litigation was brought against TWA as a class action purportedly on behalf of all flight attendants terminated under that policy since July 2, 1965.

In 1976, the district court granted partial summary judgment against TWA, holding that its policy was indeed a violation of Title 7, and also that all claims were timely because TWA had engaged in a continuing violation.

In 1978, however, the Seventh Circuit vacated that order in a decision known as the consolidated opinion.

The Seventh Circuit held that TWA's policy was indeed unlawful, but that there was no continuing violation, and that the claims of 92 percent of the plaintiff class were therefore untimely pursuant to former Section 706(d), the 90-day time filing requirement.

Plaintiffs contended before the Seventh Circuit at that time that TWA had nevertheless waived any timeliness defenses.

The Seventh Circuit in its opinion expressed doubt as to any waiver by TWA, but ruled that the time filing limit is a jurisdictional prerequisite which in any event is not subject to waiver by TWA.

Plaintiffs and TWA thereupon filed petitions for certiorari in Cases Number 78-1545 and 78-1549.

It is important to note that plaintiffs in seeking... in filing their petition for certiorari did not seek review of the Seventh Circuit holding that there was no continuing violation, and it should be remembered that this was the basis for the district court's order granting summary judgment.

In June, 1979, while those petitions for certiorari were pending, TWA and the plaintiffs entered into a settlement agreement.

Counsel, what do you think the Seventh Circuit's definition of a "continuing violation" is?

William A. Jolley:

Your Honor, the Seventh Circuit in its opinion considered this Court's decision in Evans, and relying in part upon the decision in Evans concluded that where there is a termination of employment, a permanent severing of the employment relationship, it is that act that starts the statute running, as opposed to a layoff situation where employees maintain a continued link to their job or to their employment, and TWA's refusal in the succeeding years after the terminations beginning in 1965 to rehire is not in the Seventh Circuit's opinion a continuing violation.

The violation was the act of termination.

The settlement agreement entered into by TWA and the plaintiffs in this case divided the plaintiffs into two subclasses, Subclass A consisting of the 8 percent, approximately 30 in number, who according to the Seventh Circuit had valid timely claims; Subclass B consisting exclusively of the 92 percent, exceeding 400 plaintiffs in number, whose claims are time barred according to the Seventh Circuit.

Under the agreement, TWA agrees to pay each subclass $1.5 million to be apportioned among the respective subclasses.

The settlement also contains a non-admission clause regarding TWA's liability and a provision stating that the settlement supersedes past, present, and future collective bargaining agreements.

Most importantly, the settlement provided that all class members would be offered re-employment and may obtain full competitive seniority to be awarded by the district court

"in its discretion pursuant to the provisions of Section 706(g) and all other applicable provisions of law without contest or objection by TWA. "

IFFA, the incumbent union, intervened, and its objections to the district court's jurisdiction, to the approval of the settlement agreement, and to an award granting seniority were all overruled by the district court.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the seniority grant on the basis of this Court's decision in Franks versus Bowman, and rejected IFFA's jurisdictional challenge on the rationale that the policy favoring voluntary settlements outweighs its lack of jurisdiction, even though the Seventh Circuit left undisturbed its previous holding that the time limit is jurisdictional.

IFFA stands before the Court today because valuable contract rights, indeed, its most cherished and important contract rights, previously bargained away to IFFA by TWA through the collective bargaining process, and therefore belonging to IFFA, have been taken from IFFA and given to the plaintiffs.

Under the Railway Labor Act, not only is IFFA entitled to determine for itself the collective bargaining process, what changes to make in the collective bargaining agreement, what provisions to try to include or to include in a collective bargaining agreement, it is also entitled to compliance by TWA with its Railway Labor Act obligation to deal exclusively with IFFA, and with no other, not only in setting but in changing the terms and conditions of employment, which includes seniority.

This Court has previously acknowledged the overriding importance in today's economic system of seniority systems.

Are you going to... you are going to get to the jurisdictional matter, the time matter?

Or are you arguing that?