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East Texas Motor Freight Sys., Inc. v. Rodriguez, 431 U.S. 395 (1977)

East Texas Motor Freight System, Inc. v. Rodriguez

No. 75-718

Argued January 10-11, 1977

Decided May 31, 1977*

431 U.S. 395


Respondents, Mexican-Americans, brought suit against petitioners, their unions and their employer, a common carrier that employs city and over-the-road ("line") drivers, claiming that their rejection for line driver jobs under the company's "no-transfer" policy in conjunction with the discriminatory effect of the seniority system applicable under collective bargaining agreements between the company and the unions was racially and ethnically discriminatory, and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although respondents alleged that the case was a class action brought on behalf of the named plaintiffs and all Negroes and Mexican-Americans who had been denied equal employment opportunities with the company because of their race or national origin, they did not make a pretrial motion pursuant to Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 23 to have the action certified as a class action, and the District Court made no such certification. Respondents had stipulated before trial that they had not been discriminated against when they were first hired, and that the only issue before the court was whether the company's failure to consider respondents' line driver applications violated Title VII, and their evidence and arguments at trial were confined to respondents' individual claims, with petitioners' defense showing that respondents were not qualified to be line drivers. The District Court following trial dismissed the class action allegations (stressing respondents' failure to move for class certification, their focus on individual claims, the lack of evidence, the stipulation, and the fact that a large majority of the union membership had recently rejected a proposal for the merger of

Page 431 U. S. 396

city driver and line driver seniority lists with free transfer between jobs), and the individual claims (ruling that the challenged policies were neutrally applied, were proper business policies, and that respondents lacked line driver qualifications). The Court of Appeals reversed, discounting respondents' failure to move for certification ("a responsibility [that] falls to the court"), and the court itself certifying the class, after which it found classwide company and union liability on the basis of the proof adduced at trial. The trial court "lack of qualification" finding was not disturbed, the Court of Appeals ruling only that it was "premature" because each plaintiff as a member of the class would be entitled to have his application considered on the merits when future line driver vacancies arose.

Held: The Court of Appeals plainly erred in certifying a class action and in imposing classwide liability on petitioners. Pp. 431 U. S. 403-406.

(a) The trial court proceedings made clear that respondents were not members of the class of discriminatees that they purported to represent, since there was abundant evidence that they were unqualified to be line drivers, which, in addition to the stipulation of each named plaintiff that he had not been discriminated against with respect to his initial employment, made them ineligible to represent a class of persons who did allegedly suffer injury or to attack the no-transfer rule and seniority system on the ground that these practices perpetuated past discrimination and locked minorities into the less desirable jobs to which they had been discriminatorily assigned. Pp. 431 U. S. 403-404.

(b) The named plaintiffs' failure to protect the interest of class members by moving for certification strongly implies the inadequacy of the representation class members might receive. P. 431 U. S. 405.

(c) The union vote against merging city driver and line driver seniority lists was at odds with respondents' demand for such a merger. P. 431 U. S. 405.

505 F.2d 40 (Nos. 75-718, 75-651, and 75-715); 505 F.2d 66 and 69 (Nos. 75-651 and 75-715), vacated and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 431 U. S. 397

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