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

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

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

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, L. N. McDonald and Raymond L. Laird, brought this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas seeking relief against Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co. (Santa Fe) and International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 988 (Local 988), which represented Santa Fe's Houston employees, for alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., in connection with their discharge from Santa Fe's employment. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the pleadings. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. In determining whether the decisions of these courts were correct, we must decide, first, whether a complaint alleging that white employees charged with misappropriating property from their employer were dismissed from employment, while a black employee similarly charged was

Page 427 U. S. 276

not dismissed, states a claim under Title VII. Second, we must decide whether § 1981, which provides that "[a]ll persons . . . shall have the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens . . ." affords protection from racial discrimination in private employment to white persons as well as nonwhites.

I

Because the District Court dismissed this case on the pleadings, we take as true the material facts alleged in petitioners' complaint. Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Trustees of Rex Hospital,425 U. S. 738, 425 U. S. 740 (1976). On September 26, 1970, petitioners, both white, and Charles Jackson, a Negro employee of Santa Fe, were jointly and severally charged with misappropriating 60 one-gallon cans of antifreeze which was part of a shipment Santa Fe was carrying for one of its customers. Six days later, petitioners were fired by Santa Fe, while Jackson was retained. A grievance was promptly filed with Local 988, pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between the two respondents, but grievance proceedings secured no relief. The following April, complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging that Santa Fe had discriminated against both petitioners on the basis of their race in firing them, and that Local 988 had discriminated against McDonald on the basis of his race in failing properly to represent his interests in the grievance proceedings, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Agency process proved equally unavailing for petitioners, however, and the EEOC notified them in July, 1971, of their right under the Act to initiate a civil action in district court within 30 days. This suit followed, petitioners joining their § 1981 claim to their Title VII allegations.

Page 427 U. S. 277

Respondents moved to dismiss the complaint, and in June, 1974, the District Court issued a final modified opinion and order dismissing petitioners' claims under both Title VII and § 1981. Turning first to the § 1981 claim, the District Court determined that § 1981 is wholly inapplicable to racial discrimination against white persons, and dismissed the claim for want of jurisdiction. Turning then to petitioners' claims under Title VII, the District Court concluded it had no jurisdiction over Laird's Title VII claim against Local 988, because Laird had not filed any charge against Local 988 with the EEOC. [Footnote 1] Respondent Santa Fe additionally contended that petitioners' EEOC charges against it, filed more than 90 days after their discharge, were untimely. [Footnote 2] Apparently relying upon Fifth Circuit authority for the proposition that the 90-day period for filing with the EEOC was tolled during the pendency of grievance proceedings,

Page 427 U. S. 278

however, [Footnote 3] the District Court concluded that the question of timely filing with the EEOC could not be determined without a hearing on petitioners' allegations that they had not been notified until April 3, 1971, of the termination of the grievance proceedings. [Footnote 4] But the District Court found it unnecessary to hold such a hearing, since it concluded, quite apart from any timeliness problem, that

"the dismissal of white employees charged with misappropriating company property while not dismissing a similarly charged Negro employee does not raise a claim upon which Title VII relief may be granted."

App. 117.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, per curiam, 513 F.2d 90 (1975), noting in regard to the Title VII claim asserted:

"There is no allegation that the plaintiffs were falsely charged. Disciplinary action for offenses not constituting crimes is not involved in this case."

Id. at 90-91. We granted certiorari. 423 U.S. 923 (1975). We reverse.

II

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the discharge of "any individual" because of "such individual's race," § 703(a)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). [Footnote 5] Its terms are not limited to discrimination

Page 427 U. S. 279

against members of any particular race. Thus, although we were not there confronted with racial discrimination against whites, we described the Act in Griggs v. Duke Power Co.,401 U. S. 424, 401 U. S. 431 (1971), as prohibiting "[d]iscriminatory preference for any [racial] group, minority or majority" (emphasis added). [Footnote 6] Similarly the EEOC, whose interpretations are entitled to great deference, id. at 401 U. S. 433-434, has consistently interpreted Title VII to proscribe racial discrimination in private employment against whites on the same terms as racial discrimination against nonwhites, holding that to proceed otherwise would

"constitute a derogation of the Commission's Congressional

Page 427 U. S. 280

mandate to eliminate 11 practices which operate to disadvantage the employment opportunities of any group protected by Title VII, including Caucasians."

EEOC Decision No. 731, 7 FEP 1326, 1328, CCH EEOC Decisions

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