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Franks v. Bowman Transportation Co., Inc., 424 U.S. 747 (1976)

Franks v. Bowman Transportation Co., Inc.

No. 74-728

Argued November 3, 1975

Decided March 24, 1976

424 U.S. 747


In a class action against respondent employer and certain labor unions (of which respondent union is the successor) petitioners alleged various racially discriminatory employment practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Act), especially with respect to employment of over-the-road (OTR) truck drivers. After certifying the action as a class action and, inter alia, designating one of the classes represented by petitioner Lee as consisting of black nonemployee applicants who applied for and were denied OTR positions prior to January 1, 1972, the District Court permanently enjoined the respondents from perpetuating the discriminatory practices found to exist, and, in regard to the black appliants for OTR positions, ordered the employer to notify the members of the designated class of their right to priority consideration for such jobs. But the court declined to grant the unnamed members of the class any specific relief sought, which included an award of backpay and seniority status retroactive to the date of individual application for an OTR position. While vacating the District Court's judgment insofar as it failed to award backpay to unnamed members of the class and reversing on other grounds, the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's denial of any form of seniority relief, holding that such relief was barred, as a matter of law, by § 703(h) of Title VII, which provides that it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer, inter alia, to apply different conditions of employment pursuant to a bona fide seniority system.


1. That petitioner Lee, the named plaintiff representing the class in question, no longer has a personal stake in the outcome of the action because he had been hired by respondent employer and later was properly discharged for cause does not moot the case. An adverse relationship sufficient to meet the requirement that a "live controversy" remain before this Court not only obtained as to unnamed members of the class with respect to the

Page 424 U. S. 748

underlying cause of action, but also continues with respect to their assertion that the relief they have received in entitlement to consideration for hiring and backpay is inadequate without further award of entitlement to seniority benefits. Pp. 424 U. S. 752-757.

2. Section 703(h) does not bar seniority relief to unnamed members of the class in question, who are not seeking modification or elimination of the existing seniority system but only an award of the seniority status they would have individually enjoyed under the present system but for the illegal discriminatory refusal to hire. The thrust of § 703(h) is directed toward defining what is and what is not an illegal discriminatory employment practice in instances in which the post-Act operation of a seniority system is challenged as perpetuating the effects of discrimination occurring prior to the Act's effective date, and there is no indication in the legislative materials concerning it that § 703(h) was intended to modify or restrict relief otherwise appropriate under the Act once an illegal discriminatory practice occurring after the Act's effective date is proved, such as a discriminatory refusal to hire as in this case. Pp. 424 U. S. 757-762.

3. An award of seniority retroactive to the date of the individual job application is appropriate under § 706(g) of Title VII, which, to effectuate Title VII's objective of making persons whole for injuries suffered on account of unlawful employment discrimination, vests broad equitable discretion in the federal courts to

"order such affirmative action as may be appropriate, which may include, but is not limited to, reinstatement or hiring of employees, with or without back pay . . . or any other relief as the court deems appropriate."

Merely to require respondent employer to hire the class victim of discrimination falls far short of a "make whole" remedy, and a concomitant award of the seniority credit he presumptively would have earned but for the wrongful treatment would also seem necessary absent justification for denying that relief. Without a seniority award dating from the time when he was discriminatorily refused employment, an individual who applies for and obtains employment as an OTR driver pursuant to the District Court's order will never obtain his rightful place in the hierarchy of seniority according to which various employment benefits are distributed. Pp. 424 U. S. 762-770.

4. Denial of seniority relief for the unnamed class members cannot be justified as within the District Court's discretion on

Page 424 U. S. 749

the grounds given by that court that such individuals had not filed administrative charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title VII, and that there was no evidence of a "vacancy, qualification, and performance" for every individual member of the class. Nor can the denial of such relief be justified as within the District Court's discretion on the ground that all award of retroactive seniority to the class of discriminatees will conflict with the economic interests of other employees of respondent employer. The District Court made no mention of such considerations in denying relief, and to deny relief on such a ground would, if applied generally, frustrate the "make whole" objective of Title VII. Pp. 424 U. S. 770-779.

495 F.2d 398, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, and in Part I of which POWELL, J., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 424 U. S. 780. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 424 U. S. 781. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 424 U. S. 750

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