General Tel. Co. v. Falcon
457 U.S. 147 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

General Tel. Co. v. Falcon, 457 U.S. 147 (1982)

General Telephone Company of the Southwest v. Falcon

No. 81-574

Argued April 26, 1982

Decided June 14, 1982

457 U.S. 147

Syllabus

After being denied a promotion by petitioner employer, respondent Mexican-American filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that he had been passed over for promotion because of his national origin and that petitioner's promotion policy operated against Mexican-Americans as a class. Subsequently, respondent received a right-to-sue letter from the Commission, and he then brought a class action in Federal District Court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Without conducting an evidentiary hearing, the District Court certified a class consisting of Mexican-American employees of petitioner and Mexican-American applicants who had not been hired. As to liability, the court held that petitioner had discriminated against respondent in its promotion practices, but not in its hiring practices, and, with respect to the class, found that petitioner had discriminated against Mexican-Americans in its hiring practices, but not in its promotion practices. Both parties appealed, and the Court of Appeals, rejecting petitioner's argument that the class had been defined too broadly, held that the District Court's class certification was proper under the Fifth Circuit's rule permitting any victim of racial discrimination in employment to maintain an "across-the-board" attack on all unequal employment practices allegedly followed by the employer pursuant to a policy of racial discrimination. On the merits, the Court of Appeals upheld respondent's promotion claim, but held that the District Court's findings were insufficient to support recovery on behalf of the class. Subsequently, this Court vacated the Court of Appeals' judgment and remanded the case for further consideration in light of Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine,450 U. S. 248. The Court of Appeals then vacated its judgment as to respondent's promotion claim, but reinstated its approval of the District Court's class certification.

Held: The District Court erred in permitting respondent to maintain a class action on behalf of both employees who were denied promotion and applicants who were denied employment. Pp. 457 U. S. 155-161.

(a) An individual litigant seeking to maintain a class action under Title VII must meet Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)'s specified "prerequisites of numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation." General Telephone Co. v. EEOC,446 U. S. 318, 446 U. S. 330.

Page 457 U. S. 148

These requirements effectively "limit the class claims to those fairly encompassed by the named plaintiff's claim." Ibid. Pp. 457 U. S. 155-157.

(b) There can be no disagreement with the proposition underlying the Fifth Circuit's "across-the-board" rule -- that racial discrimination is, by definition, class discrimination. But the allegation that such discrimination has occurred neither determines whether a class action may be maintained in accordance with Rule 23 nor determines the class that may be certified. Here, to bridge the gap between respondent's promotion claim and the existence of a class of persons who have suffered the same injury as respondent -- so that respondent's claim and the class claims share common questions of law or fact and respondent's claim is typical of the class claims -- respondent must prove much more than the validity of his own claim. Respondent's complaint provided an insufficient basis for concluding that the adjudication of his claim would require the decision of any common question concerning petitioner's failure to hire more Mexican-Americans. Without any specific presentation identifying the questions of law or fact that were common to the claims of respondent and of the class members he sought to represent, it was error for the District Court to presume that respondent's claim was typical of other claims against petitioner by Mexican-American employees and applicants. Pp. 457 U. S. 157-159.

(c) As the District Court's bifurcated findings on liability demonstrate, the individual and class claims might as well have been tried separately. Thus, it is clear that the maintenance of the action as a class action did not advance "the efficiency and economy of litigation which is a principal purpose of the procedure." American Pipe Construction Co. v. Utah,414 U. S. 538, 414 U. S. 553. P. 457 U. S. 159.

(d) The District Court's error, and the error inherent in the "across-the-board" rule, is the failure to evaluate carefully the legitimacy of the named plaintiff's plea that he is a proper class representative under Rule 23(a). P. 457 U. S. 160.

647 F.2d 633, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 457 U. S. 161.

Page 457 U. S. 149

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