Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co. - 415 U.S. 36 (1974)

U.S. Supreme Court

Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36 (1974)

Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co.

No. 72-5847

Argued November 5, 1973

Decided February 19, 1974

415 U.S. 36


Following discharge by his employer, respondent company, petitioner, a black, filed a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement between respondent and petitioner's union, which contained a broad arbitration clause, petitioner ultimately claiming that his discharge resulted from racial discrimination. Upon rejection by the company of petitioner's claims, an arbitration hearing was held, prior to which petitioner filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission a racial discrimination complaint which was referred to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The arbitrator ruled that petitioner's discharge was for cause. Following the EEOC's subsequent determination that there was not reasonable ground to believe that a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had occurred, petitioner brought this action in District Court, alleging that his discharge resulted from a racially discriminatory employment practice in violation of the Act. The District Court granted respondent's motion for summary judgment, holding that petitioner was bound by the prior arbitral decision, and had no right to sue under Title VII. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: An employee's statutory right to trial de novo under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not foreclosed by prior submission of his claim to final arbitration under the nondiscrimination clause of a collective bargaining agreement. Pp. 415 U. S. 44-60.

(a) Title VII was designed to supplement, rather than supplant, existing laws and institutions relating to employment discrimination, as may be inferred from the legislative history of Title VII, which manifests a congressional intent to allow an individual to pursue rights under Title VII and other applicable state and federal statutes. Pp. 415 U. S. 47-49.

(b) The doctrine of election of remedies is inapplicable in the present context, which involves statutory rights distinctly separate from the employee's contractual rights, regardless of the fact that violation of both rights may have resulted from the same factual occurrence. Pp. 415 U. S. 49-51.

Page 415 U. S. 37

(c) By merely resorting to the arbitral forum, petitioner did not waive his cause of action under Title VII; the rights conferred thereby cannot be prospectively waived, and form no part of the collective bargaining process. Pp. 415 U. S. 51-52.

(d) The arbitrator's authority is confined to resolution of questions of contractual rights, regardless of whether they resemble or duplicate Title VII rights. Pp. 415 U. S. 52-54.

(e) In instituting a Title VII action, the employee is not seeking review of the arbitrator's decision, and thus getting (as the District Court put it) "two strings to his bow when the employer has only one," but is asserting a right independent of the arbitration process that the statute gives to employees, the only possible victims of discriminatory employment practices. P. 415 U. S. 54.

(f) Permitting an employee to resort to the judicial forum after arbitration procedures have been followed does not undermine the employer's incentive to arbitrate, as most employers will regard the benefits from a no-strike pledge in the arbitration agreement as outweighing any costs resulting from giving employees an arbitral antidiscrimination remedy in addition to their Title VII judicial remedy. Pp. 415 U. S. 54-55.

(g) A policy of deferral by federal courts to arbitral decisions (as opposed to adoption of a preclusion rule) would not comport with the congressional objective that federal courts should exercise the final responsibility for enforcement of Title VII and would lead to: the arbitrator's emphasis on the law of the shop, rather than the law of the land; factfinding and other procedures less complete than those followed in a judicial forum; and perhaps employees bypassing arbitration in favor of litigation. Pp. 415 U. S. 55-59.

(h) In considering an employee's claim, the federal court may admit the arbitral decision as evidence and accord it such weight as may be appropriate under the facts and circumstances of each case. Pp. 415 U. S. 59-60.

466 F.2d 1209, reversed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 415 U. S. 38

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