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ZIPES ET AL. v. TRANS WORLD AIRLINES

decided*fn*: February 24, 1982.

ZIPES ET AL
v.
TRANS WORLD AIRLINES, INC.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT.

White, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, and O'connor, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which Burger, C. J., and Powell and Rehnquist, JJ., joined. Powell, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment in part, in which Burger, C. J., and Rehnquist, J., joined, post, p. 401. Stevens, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

Author: White

[ 455 U.S. Page 387]

 JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The primary question in these cases is whether the statutory time limit for filing charges under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e et seq. (1970 ed.) is a jurisdictional prerequisite to a suit in the District Court. Secondarily, we resolve a dispute as to whether retroactive seniority was a proper remedy in these Title VII cases.

[ 455 U.S. Page 388]

     I

In 1970, the Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Association (ALSSA), then the collective-bargaining agent of Trans World Airlines (TWA) flight attendants, brought a class action alleging that TWA practiced unlawful sex discrimination in violation of Title VII by its policy of grounding all female flight cabin attendants who became mothers, while their male counterparts who became fathers were permitted to continue flying. After collective bargaining eliminated the challenged practice prospectively, the parties in the case reached a tentative settlement. The settlement, which provided neither backpay nor retroactive seniority, was approved by the District Court. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, however, found the union to be an inadequate representative of the class because of the inherent conflict between the interests of current and former employees. It remanded the case with instructions that the District Court name individual members of the class to replace ALSSA as the class representative.*fn1 Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Assn. v. American Airlines, Inc., 490 F.2d 636 (1973).

Upon remand, petitioners in No. 78-1545 were appointed as class representatives. TWA moved to amend its answer to assert that the claims of plaintiffs and other class members were barred by Title VII's "statute of limitations" because they had failed to file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within the statutory time

[ 455 U.S. Page 389]

     limit. 1 App. 89a.*fn2 Although the District Court granted the motion to amend, it noted that the "delay in pleading the defense of limitations may well ultimately constitute a waiver of the defense." Id., at 101a.

Subsequently, on October 15, 1976, the District Court denied TWA's motion to exclude class members who had not filed timely charges with the EEOC. In support of its motion, TWA argued that instead of an affirmative defense analogous to a statute of limitations, timely filing with the EEOC is a jurisdictional prerequisite not subject to waiver by any action of the defendants. While the District Court agreed that the filing requirements of Title VII are jurisdictional, it denied the motion on the basis that any violation by the airline continued against all the class members until the airline changed the challenged policy. Id., at 131a-132a. On October 19, 1976, the District Court granted the motion of the plaintiff class for summary judgment on the issue of TWA's liability for violating Title VII. Id., at 133a-134a.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the order of October 18, 1976, granting summary judgment on liability, expressly holding that "TWA's no motherhood policy . . . provides a clear example of sex discrimination prohibited by § 2000e-2(a)." In re Consolidated Pretrial Proceedings in the Airline Cases, 582 F.2d 1142, 1145 (1978). It declined, however, "to extend the continuing violation theory, as did the district court, so as to include in the plaintiff class those employees who were permanently terminated more than 90 days before the filing of EEOC charges." Id., at 1149.

The Court of Appeals went on to hold that timely filing of EEOC charges was a jurisdictional prerequisite. Because TWA could not waive the timely-filing requirement, the

[ 455 U.S. Page 390]

     Court of Appeals found that approximately 92% of the plaintiffs' claims were jurisdictionally barred by the failure of those plaintiffs to have filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC within 90 days of the alleged unlawful employment practice. The Court of Appeals, however, stayed its mandate pending the filing of petitions in this Court. Petitions for certiorari were filed by the plaintiff class, No. 78-1545, and by TWA, No. 78-1549. This Court granted motions to defer consideration of the petitions pending completion of settlement proceedings in the District Court. 442 U.S. 916 (1979).

In connection with the settlement proceedings, the District Court designated two subclasses. Subclass A, consisting of some 30 women, comprised those who were terminated on or after March 2, 1970, as well as those who were discharged earlier, but who had accepted reinstatement in ground duty positions. Subclass B, numbering some 400 women, covered all other members of the class and consisted of those whose claims the Court of Appeals had found to be jurisdictionally barred for failure to satisfy the timely-filing requirement. 2 App. 3.

The proposed settlement divided $3 million between the two groups. It also provided each class member with full company and union seniority from the date of termination. The agreement specified that "in the event of the timely objection of any interested person, it is agreed that the amount of seniority and credit for length of service for the compensation period will be determined by the Court in its discretion, pursuant to the provisions of Section 706(g), and all other applicable provisions of law, without contest or objection by TWA."*fn3 App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 80-951, p. 29a.

[ 455 U.S. Page 391]

     The Independent Federation of Flight Attendants (union), which had replaced ALSSA as the collective-bargaining agent for the flight attendants, was permitted to intervene and to object to the settlement. On the basis that the Court of Appeals had not issued the mandate in its jurisdictional decision, the District Court rejected the union's challenge to its jurisdiction over Subclass B. Id., at 14a-15a. After holding three days of hearings, the District Court approved the settlement and awarded competitive seniority. It explicitly found that full restoration of retroactive seniority would not have an unusual adverse impact upon currently employed flight attendants in any way atypical of Title VII cases. Id., at 18a-19a.

The union appealed. It argued that, because of the Court of Appeals' earlier opinion, the District Court lacked jurisdiction to approve the settlement or to order retroactive seniority with respect to Subclass B. The Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning that "the principles favoring settlement of class action lawsuits remain the same regardless of whether the disputed legal issues center on the jurisdiction of the court over the action." Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Assn. v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 630 F.2d 1164, 1169 (1980). It further explained that the question of jurisdiction as to Subclass B had not been finally determined because a challenge to its decision was pending before this Court and observed that the Courts of Appeals were split on the issue. The Court of Appeals noted that the District Court clearly had subject-matter jurisdiction ...


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