Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Transport WorkersAnnotate this Case
451 U.S. 77 (1981)
U.S. Supreme Court
Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Transport Workers, 451 U.S. 77 (1981)
Northwest Airlines, Inc. v. Transport Workers
Union of America, AFL-CIO
Argued December 2, 1980
Decided April 20, 1981
451 U.S. 77
In a class action brought against petitioner airline by a female cabin attendant employee, petitioner was held liable to the class of such female employees for backpay because wage differentials between male and female cabin attendants collectively bargained with respondent unions were found to violate the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After its postjudgment motions claiming contribution from the unions for a proportionate part of the liability were denied as untimely, petitioner brought a separate action in Federal District Court seeking such contribution. The District Court interpreted the pleadings as contending that petitioner had either an implied cause of action for contribution against the unions under the Equal Pay Act for discriminating against the class of employees in question or a federal common law right to contribution from the unions for a share of its Equal Pay Act liability, and that the petitioner's claim for reimbursement for its Title VII liability was based solely on a federal common law right to contribution. The court dismissed the claim for contribution based on petitioner's liability under the Equal Pay Act, but, denying the unions' motions to dismiss, held that there was a federal common law right to contribution for liability imposed under Title VII, at least under some circumstances, and that it would reach the issues as to this right when the facts were properly developed. Both the unions and petitioner appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal for contribution based on petitioner's liability under the Equal Pay Act, but declined to reach the Title VII issue, remanding to the District Court for determination of the unions' assertion that the Title VII contribution claim was barred by laches.
Held: Petitioner has neither a federal statutory nor a federal common law right to contribution from respondent unions. Pp. 451 U. S. 86-99.
(a) Even if it is assumed that all of the elements of a typical contribution claim are established in this case, that the policy considerations under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII favor the recognition of a right to contribution, that the unions bear significant responsibility for discriminatory practices that these statutes were designed to prohibit, and that
there are circumstances in which an employer may be a "person aggrieved" by union conduct that would be remediable under Title VII, none of these assumptions provides a sufficient basis for recognizing the right to contribution asserted by petitioner. Pp. 451 U. S. 86-91.
(b) The language of neither the Equal Pay Act nor Title VII, both of which statutes are expressly directed against employers, supports implication of a right to contribution in favor of employers against unions. The structure and legislative histories of both statutes similarly do not support such an implied right. Pp. 451 U. S. 91-95.
(c) Whatever may be a federal court's power to fashion remedies in other areas of the law, it would be improper to add a federal common law right to contribution to the statutory rights that Congress created in the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. Cooper Stevedoring Co. v. Fritz Kopke, Inc.,417 U. S. 106, distinguished. A favorable reaction to the equitable considerations supporting petitioner's contribution claim is not a sufficient reason for enlarging on the remedial provisions contained in these carefully considered statutes. Cf. Mohasco Corp. v. Silver,447 U. S. 807. Pp. 451 U. S. 95-99
196 U.S.App.D.C. 443, 606 F.2d 1350, affirmed in part and vacated in part.
STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except BLACKMUN, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question presented in this case is whether an employer held liable to its female employees for backpay because collectively bargained wage differentials were found to violate the Equal Pay Act of 1963 [Footnote 1] and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [Footnote 2] has a federal statutory or common law right to
contribution from unions that allegedly bear at least partial responsibility for the statutory violations.
The relevant facts are alleged in the complaint filed by the petitioner, Northwest Airlines, Inc., against the respondent unions, the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) and the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. [Footnote 3] Continuously from 1947 through 1974, petitioner paid higher wages to its male cabin attendants, who were classified
as pursers, than to its female cabin attendants, who were classified as stewardesses. During that period, both the male and the female cabin attendants were represented by a union -- TWU from 1961 to 1971 and ALPA thereafter [Footnote 4] -- and their wages were fixed by collective bargaining agreements negotiated and executed in response to union demands.
In 1970, Mary Laffey, a female cabin attendant employed by petitioner, commenced a class action against petitioner challenging the legality of the wage differential between pursers and stewardesses. [Footnote 5] On November 12, 1973, after a full trial, the District Court issued an opinion in which it found that the two positions required equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and were performed under similar working conditions. Accordingly, the court held that petitioner had violated the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and entered judgment in favor of the plaintiff class. Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 366 F.Supp. 763 (1973). [Footnote 6] Unless that judgment is reversed or modified, petitioner
will be required to pay in excess of $2 million in backpay, damages, and interest to the members of the Laffey plaintiff class. [Footnote 7]
After the entry of judgment against it, petitioner filed appropriate motions in the Laffey case, asserting claims for contribution and indemnification against TWU and ALPA. [Footnote 8] Those motions were denied as untimely, and the Court of Appeals affirmed this ruling. Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 185 U.S.App.D.C. 322, 369-370, 567 F.2d 429, 476-478. Promptly thereafter, petitioner commenced this separate action. The complaint prayed that each union be adjudged liable to pay a proportion of any monetary liability finally assessed against petitioner in the Laffey litigation. The unions moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.
As the District Court interpreted the pleadings, petitioner contended that it had an implied cause of action against the unions under the Equal Pay Act for causing it to discriminate against the Laffey class, or, in the alternative, a federal common law right to contribution from the unions for a share of its Equal Pay Act monetary liability. Petitioner's claim for reimbursement for its Title VII monetary liability was based solely on a federal common law right to contribution. App. to Pet. for Cert. 2b-3b. The District Court held that, because the Equal Pay Act clearly was not enacted for the special
benefit of employers, petitioner could not rely upon an implied private cause of action for contribution under that statute. The court also concluded that the Act did not afford employees any express or implied right of action against their unions; because it found that unions and employers do not share common liability to employees under the Equal Pay Act, the District Court held that there is no federal common law right to contribution for liability under that statute. [Footnote 9]
The District Court reached a different conclusion with respect to the claim for contribution for petitioner's Title VII monetary liability. It found that the allegations of the complaint satisfied the two principal elements of a common law right to contribution: (1) common liability and (2) the party seeking contribution has been required to pay more than its just share of the award. Id. at 10b. The court answered what it described as the "more difficult question" whether there is a right to contribution under federal law by noting a modern trend of federal court decisions favoring contribution, [Footnote 10] and by finding that the policy of the statute would
be served by allowing contribution. Assuming, without deciding, that contribution might be denied for an intentional wrong, the court denied the unions' motions to dismiss, holding
only that there is a federal common law right to contribution for monetary liability imposed under Title VII, at least under some circumstances, and it will reach the questions as to the precise parameter of this right when the pertinent facts have been developed and properly placed before the Court.
Id. at 18b. [Footnote 11]
The unions took an interlocutory appeal from the Title VII holding, [Footnote 12] and petitioner appealed the Equal Pay Act holding. [Footnote 13] The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the claim for contribution based on petitioner's liability under the Equal Pay Act, reasoning that such a claim would be inconsistent with the statutory scheme prescribing three, and only three, modes of enforcement. [Footnote 14] However, the Court of Appeals declined to reach the Title VII issue. Noting that, on appeal, the unions had asserted for the first time that petitioner's Title VII contribution claim was barred by laches, the court remanded to the District Court with instructions
to determine the laches question, explaining that it might thereby become unnecessary to decide the hard question concerning contribution for Title VII liability. 196 U.S.App.D.C. 443, 449, 606 F.2d 1350, 1356 (1979).
Unlike the Court of Appeals, we think the basic legal questions raised by the motions to dismiss petitioner's contribution claims are ripe for decision. [Footnote 15] The importance of these questions led us to grant certiorari. 447 U.S. 920.
We first put to one side certain questions that we need not address. We shall then discuss the two quite different theories that might support petitioner's claimed right to contribution
At common law there was no right to contribution among joint tortfeasors. [Footnote 16] In most American jurisdictions, however,
that rule has been changed either by statute or by judicial decision. [Footnote 17] Typically, a right to contribution is recognized when two or more persons are liable to the same plaintiff for
the same injury and one of the joint tortfeasors has paid more than his fair share of the common liability. [Footnote 18] Recognition of the right reflects the view that, when two or more persons share responsibility for a wrong, it is inequitable to require one to pay the entire cost of reparation, and it is sound policy to deter all wrongdoers by reducing the likelihood that any will entirely escape liability. [Footnote 19] In this case, we assume that all of the elements of a typical contribution claim are established. This means that we assume that the plaintiffs in the Laffey litigation could have recovered from either the union or the employer, under both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII, [Footnote 20] and that it is unfair to
require petitioner to pay the entire judgment. Furthermore, although the adversaries disagree with respect to whether recognition of a right to contribution would undermine or advance the policies of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII -- and, indeed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has staunchly argued both sides of that policy question at different stages of this litigation [Footnote 21] -- we assume that the policy considerations favor the recognition of the right.
And, as argued by petitioner, we assume that the respondent unions in this case, as well as other unions in other industries, [Footnote 22] bear significant responsibility for discriminatory practices that these statutes were designed to prohibit. Finally, we assume that there are circumstances in which an employer may be a "person aggrieved" by union conduct that would be remediable after a timely charge is filed against the union under § 706(b) of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(b). [Footnote 23] None of these assumptions, however, provides a sufficient basis for recognizing the right petitioner is asserting in this proceeding.
That right may have been created in either of two ways. First, it may have been created by statute when Congress enacted the Equal Pay Act or Title VII. Even though Congress did not expressly create a contribution remedy, if its intent to do so may fairly be inferred from either or both statutes, an implied cause of action for contribution could be recognized on the basis of the analysis used in cases such as Cort v. Ash,422 U. S. 66, Cannon v. University of Chicago,441 U. S. 677, and Universities Research Assn., Inc. v. Coutu,450 U. S. 754. Second, a cause of action for contribution may have become a part of the federal common law through the exercise of judicial power to fashion appropriate remedies for unlawful conduct. See, e.g., Kohr v. Allegheny Airlines, Inc.,
504 F.2d 400 (CA7 1974), cert. denied, 421 U.S. 978. For somewhat different reasons, we reject both theories.
In determining whether a federal statute that does not expressly provide for a particular private right of action nonetheless implicitly created that right, our task is one of statutory construction. See Touche Ross Co. v. Redington,442 U. S. 560, 442 U. S. 568. The ultimate question in cases such as this is whether Congress intended to create the private remedy -- for example, a right to contribution -- that the plaintiff seeks to invoke. See Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis,444 U. S. 11, 444 U. S. 116; Universities Research Assn., Inc., supra, at 450 U. S. 770. Factors relevant to this inquiry are the language of the statute itself, its legislative history, the underlying purpose and structure of the statutory scheme, and the likelihood that Congress intended to supersede or to supplement existing state remedies. See Cort v. Ash, supra, at 422 U. S. 78; Cannon, supra, at 441 U. S. 689-709.
In matters of statutory construction, it is appropriate to begin with the language of the statute itself. See Touche Ross & Co., supra, at 442 U. S. 568; Reiter v. Sonotone Corp.,442 U. S. 330, 442 U. S. 337. Neither the Equal Pay Act nor Title VII expressly creates a right to contribution in favor of employers. This omission, although significant, [Footnote 24] is not dispositive if, among other
things, the language of the statutes indicates that they were enacted for the special benefit of a class of which petitioner is a member. See Cannon, supra, at 441 U. S. 689. However, as the District Court correctly perceived, it cannot possibly be said that employers are members of the class for whose especial benefit either the Equal Pay Act or Title VII was enacted. App. to Pet. for Cert. 5b. [Footnote 25] To the contrary, both statutes are expressly directed against employers; Congress intended in these statutes to regulate their conduct for the benefit of employees. [Footnote 26] In light of this fact, petitioner "can scarcely lay claim to the status of beneficiary' whom Congress considered in need of protection." Piper v. Chris-Craft Industries, Inc.,430 U. S. 1, 430 U. S. 37.
Even if we focus upon the isolated provisions in each statute that arguably were intended to provide special protection
for employers, [Footnote 27] the same result follows. For those provisions, construed most favorably to petitioner, could, at most, provide a basis for implying a remedy for harm to an employer caused by union wrongdoing. Such a remedy for a violation of the employer's rights would be entirely different from a right to compel the union to share the responsibility for a joint violation of a third party's rights. Clearly, the language of neither statute supports implication of a right to contribution in favor of employers against unions. [Footnote 28]
The structure of the statutes similarly counsels against recognition of the implied right petitioner advocates in this case. The Equal Pay Act and Title VII establish comprehensive programs designed to eliminate certain varieties of employment discrimination. The statutes make express provision for private enforcement in certain carefully defined circumstances, and provide for enforcement at the instance of the Federal Government in other circumstances. [Footnote 29] The comprehensive character of the remedial scheme expressly fashioned by Congress strongly evidences an intent not to
authorize additional remedies. [Footnote 30] It is, of course, not within our competence as federal judges to amend these comprehensive enforcement schemes by adding to them another private remedy not authorized by Congress.
Finally, we conclude that the legislative histories of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII provide no support for petitioner's position. [Footnote 31] As the parties recognize, the legislative history of neither statute contains any reference, adverse or favorable, to contribution. Of course, such legislative silence is often encountered in implied-right-of-action cases; it is to be expected that "the legislative history of a statute that does not expressly create or deny a private remedy will typically be equally silent or ambiguous on the question." Cannon, 441 U.S. at 441 U. S. 694. Therefore,
"the failure of Congress expressly to consider a private remedy is not inevitably inconsistent with an intent on its part to make such a remedy available."
Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, 444 U.S. at 444 U. S. 18. But unless this congressional intent can be inferred from the language of the statute, the statutory structure, or some other source, the essential predicate for implication of a private remedy simply does not exist. In this case, we have been unable to discover any manifestation of an intent on the part of Congress to create a right to contribution in favor of employers under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. Accordingly,
we hold that there is no implied right to contribution under those statutes.
Although it is much too late to deny that there is a significant body of federal law that has been fashioned by the federal judiciary in the common law tradition, it remains true that federal courts, unlike their state counterparts, are courts of limited jurisdiction that have not been vested with open-ended lawmaking powers. See United States v. Standard Oil Co.,332 U. S. 301, 332 U. S. 313. Broadly worded constitutional and statutory provisions necessarily have been given concrete meaning and application by a process of case-by-case judicial decision in the common law tradition. The Court also has recognized a responsibility, in the absence of legislation, to fashion federal common law in cases raising issues of uniquely federal concern, such as the definition of rights or duties of the United States, [Footnote 32] or the resolution of interstate controversies. [Footnote 33] However, we consistently have emphasized that the federal lawmaking power is vested in the legislative, not the judicial, branch of government; therefore, federal common law is "subject to the paramount authority of Congress." New Jersey v. New York,283 U. S. 336, 283 U. S. 348. [Footnote 34]
A narrow exception to the limited lawmaking role of the federal judiciary is found in admiralty. We consistently
have interpreted the grant of general admiralty jurisdiction to the federal courts as a proper basis for the development of judge-made rules of maritime law. See Fitzgerald v. United States Lines Co.,374 U. S. 16, 374 U. S. 20-21. [Footnote 35] Because "the Congress has largely left to this Court the responsibility for fashioning the controlling rules of admiralty law," id. at 374 U. S. 20, "[a]dmiralty law is judge-made law to a great extent." Edmonds v. Compagnie Generale Transatlantique,443 U. S. 256, 443 U. S. 259. Even in admiralty, however, where the federal judiciary's lawmaking power may well be at its strongest, it is our duty to respect the will of Congress. [Footnote 36]
Pursuant to our authority to fashion flexible and equitable remedies in admiralty, see United States v. Reliable Transfer Co.,421 U. S. 397, 421 U. S. 409, we approved a nonstatutory federal right to contribution among joint tortfeasors in Cooper Stevedoring Co. v. Fritz Kopke, Inc.,417 U. S. 106. In that case, relying upon ancient admiralty doctrine, we held that a shipowner may obtain contribution from another tortfeasor jointly responsible for causing injury to a longshoreman. However, contrary to petitioner's argument and the understanding of some lower federal courts, [Footnote 37] Cooper Stevedoring did not recognize a general federal right to contribution, and no such general federal right has been recognized in any other
decisions of this Court. [Footnote 38] Our approval of contribution in Cooper Stevedoring was based on traditional admiralty doctrine [Footnote 39] and on the power of the federal judiciary to fashion rules of law in admiralty. Neither of the predicates for that decision is applicable in the present context.
The liability of petitioner for discriminating against its female cabin attendants is entirely a creature of federal statute. In almost any statutory scheme, there may be a need for judicial interpretation of ambiguous or incomplete provisions. But the authority to construe a statute is fundamentally different from the authority to fashion a new rule or to provide a new remedy which Congress has decided not to adopt. Cf. Mobil Oil Corp. v. Higginbotham,436 U. S. 618, 436 U. S. 625. The presumption that a remedy was deliberately omitted from a statute is strongest when Congress has enacted a comprehensive legislative scheme including an integrated system of procedures for enforcement. Both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are such statutes. The judiciary may not, in the face of such comprehensive legislative schemes, fashion new remedies that might upset carefully considered legislative programs. [Footnote 40]
Last Term, in Mohasco Corp. v. Silver,447 U. S. 807, we had occasion to consider the enforcement scheme of Title VII with some care. Although equitable considerations strongly supported a nonliteral reading of the statutory provisions regarding
the time during which a claim could be asserted, see id. at 447 U. S. 827-828 (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting), we concluded that we had a duty to
"respect the compromise embodied in the words chosen by Congress. It is not our place simply to alter the balance struck by Congress in procedural statutes by favoring one side or the other in matters of statutory construction."
Id. at 447 U. S. 826. In this case, as in Mohasco, a favorable reaction to the equitable considerations supporting petitioner's contribution claim is not a sufficient reason for enlarging on the remedial provisions contained in these carefully considered statutes. [Footnote 41]
Whatever may be a federal court's power to fashion remedies in other areas of the law, [Footnote 42] we are satisfied that it would be improper for us to add a right to contribution to the statutory rights that Congress created in the Equal Pay Act and Title VII. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore modified insofar as it fails to direct the District Court to grant
respondent unions' motions to dismiss the complaint. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and vacated in part.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE BLACKMUN took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
The Equal Pay Act, 77 Stat. 56, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), which was enacted in 1963 as an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, 52 Stat. 1060, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., provides, in relevant part:
"(d)(1) No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions, except where such payment is made pursuant to (i) a seniority system; (ii) a merit system; (iii) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or (iv) a differential based on any other factor other than sex: Provided, That an employer who is paying a wage rate differential in violation of this subsection shall not, in order to comply with the provisions of this subsection, reduce the wage rate of any employee."
"(2) No labor organization, or its agents, representing employees of an employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall cause or attempt to cause such an employer to discriminate against an employee in violation of paragraph (1) of this subsection."
29 U.S.C. §§ 206(d)(1)-(2).
Section 703 of the Civil Rights Act, 78 Stat. 255, as amended and as set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, provides, in relevant part:
"(a) . . . It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer -- "
"(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or"
"(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin."
"(c) . . . It shall be an unlawful employment practice for a labor organization -- "
"(1) to exclude or to expel from its membership, or otherwise to discriminate against, any individual because of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin;"
"(2) to limit, segregate, or classify its membership or applicants for membership, or to classify or fail or refuse to refer for employment any individual, in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities, or would limit such employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee or as an applicant for employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or"
"(3) to cause or attempt to cause an employer to discriminate against an individual in violation of this section."
42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a),(c).
Because the case comes before us on respondents' motions to dismiss, we accept as true the factual allegations of petitioner's complaint. See Scheuer v. Rhodes,416 U. S. 232, 416 U. S. 236-237. Additional background information is taken from the District Court and Court of Appeals opinions in the underlying employment discrimination class action. See Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 366 F.Supp. 763 (1973), aff'd in part, vacated and remanded in part, 185 U.S.App.D.C. 322, 567 F.2d 429 (1976), cert. denied,434 U. S. 1086.
From 1946 to 1961, the cabin attendants were represented by the Airline Stewards and Stewardesses Association, International, which became affiliated with TWU in 1961. See Lacey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 366 F.Supp. at 765. Prior to 1947, all cabin attendants employed by petitioner were females classified as stewardesses. Ibid.
No claims were asserted against the respondent unions, although the plaintiffs subsequently joined ALPA as a nonaligned party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(a) in order to bring before the District Court all parties necessary to implement a complete remedy. See Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 185 U.S.App.D.C. at 370-371, 567 F.2d at 477-478. The plaintiffs expressly stated that they did not consider ALPA responsible for any of the alleged discrimination, and petitioner did not oppose ALPA's participation as a nonaligned party. Id. at 371, 567 F.2d at 478.
Shortly thereafter, the District Court entered an order detailing the remedial steps, including payment of backpay, that petitioner was to take to rectify its past discrimination. Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 374 F.Supp. 1382 (1974).
The opinion of the District Court in the present case indicates that petitioner's monetary liability as a result of the Laffey litigation has been estimated to be $24,500,000. App. to Pet. for Cert. 11b, n. 23. Petitioner in this Court asserts that its monetary liability presently is calculated to be approximately $37 million. Brief for Petitioner 6.
Petitioner moved to amend its answer to include a request that ALPA be realigned as a defendant and to assert a cross-claim for contribution or indemnification from ALPA for any Equal Pay Act or Title VII monetary liability assessed against petitioner and a claim for damages under the Equal Pay Act for allegedly causing petitioner's violation. Petitioner also moved for leave to file a third-party complaint against TWU asserting similar claims.
Most of the lower federal courts that have considered the question whether employers may seek contribution from unions for monetary liability under the Equal Pay Act have concluded that this right is not implicit in the statute nor available under federal common law. See, e.g., Denicola v. G. C. Murphy Co., 562 F.2d 889 (CA3 1977); EEOC v. Ferris State College, 493 F.Supp. 707 (WD Mich.1980); Marshall v. Tombs Janitorial Service, Inc., 82 CCH LC