McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transp. Co.
427 U.S. 273 (1976)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transp. Co., 427 U.S. 273 (1976)

McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co.

No. 75-260

Argued April 20, 1976

Decided June 25, 1976

427 U.S. 273

Syllabus

Petitioners, both white employees of respondent transportation company, were discharged for misappropriating cargo from one of the company's shipments, but a Negro employee, who was also charged with the same offense, was not discharged. After subsequent grievance proceedings pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between the company and respondent union and complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) secured no relief, petitioners brought an action against respondents, alleging that in discharging petitioners, while retaining the Negro employee, respondent company had discriminated against petitioners on the basis of race, and that respondent union had acquiesced in this discrimination by failing properly to represent one of the petitioners in the grievance proceeding, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits the discharge of "any individual" because of "such individual's race," and of 42 U.S.C. § 1981, which provides that "[a]ll persons . . . shall have the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens. . . ." The District Court dismissed the complaint on the pleadings, holding, inter alia, that § 1981 is inapplicable to racial discrimination against whites, and that the facts alleged by petitioners failed to state a claim under Title VII. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held:

1. Title VII, whose terms are not limited to discrimination against members of any particular race, prohibits racial discrimination in private employment against white persons upon the same standards as racial discrimination against nonwhites. Pp. 427 U. S. 278-285.

(a) Title VII has been so interpreted by the EEOC, whose interpretations are entitled to great deference, and its conclusion accords with uncontradicted legislative history. Pp. 427 U. S. 279-280.

(b) That petitioners' dismissal was based upon the commission of a criminal offense does not preclude them from seeking relief under Title VII. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v.

Page 427 U. S. 274

Green,411 U. S. 792. While respondent employer may decide that participation in a theft of cargo may warrant not retaining a person in its employment, this criterion must be "applied alike to members of all races," or Title VII is violated. Crime or other misconduct may be a legitimate basis for discharge, but it is not a basis for racial discrimination. Pp. 427 U. S. 281-284.

(c) Respondent union, as well as respondent company, is subject to liability under Title VII, since the same reasons that prohibit an employer from discriminating on the basis of race among culpable employees apply equally to the union, regardless of whether the union, under the circumstances, may find it necessary to compromise in securing retention of some of the affected employees. Whatever factors such a compromise may legitimately take into account in mitigating discipline of some employees, under Title VII race may not be included. Pp. 427 U. S. 284-285.

2. Section 1981 prohibits racial discrimination in private employment against white persons as well as nonwhites, and this conclusion is supported both by the statute's language, which explicitly applies to "all persons," and by its legislative history. While the phrase "as is enjoyed by white persons" would seem to lend some support to the argument that the statute is limited to the protection of nonwhite persons against racial discrimination, the legislative history is clear that the addition of the phrase to the statute as finally enacted was not intended to eliminate the prohibition of racial discrimination against whites. Pp. 427 U. S. 285-296.

513 F.2d 90, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., filed a separate statement, post, p. 427 U. S. 296.

Page 427 U. S. 275

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