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MCDONALD ET AL. v. SANTA FE TRAIL TRANSPORTATION CO. ET AL.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


June 25, 1976

MCDONALD ET AL
v.
SANTA FE TRAIL TRANSPORTATION CO. ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Marshall, Burger, Brennan, Stewart, Blackmun, Powell, Stevens.

Author: Marshall

[ 427 U.S. Page 275]

 MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, L. N. McDonald and Raymond L. Laird, brought this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas seeking relief against Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co. (Santa Fe) and International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 988 (Local 988), which represented Santa Fe's Houston employees, for alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., in connection with their discharge from Santa Fe's employment. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the pleadings. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. In determining whether the decisions of these courts were correct, we must decide, first, whether a complaint alleging that white employees charged with misappropriating property from their employer were dismissed from employment, while a black employee similarly charged was

[ 427 U.S. Page 276]

     not dismissed, states a claim under Title VII. Second, we must decide whether § 1981, which provides that "[a]ll persons... shall have the same right... to make and enforce contracts... as is enjoyed by white citizens..." affords protection from racial discrimination in private employment to white persons as well as nonwhites.

I

Because the District Court dismissed this case on the pleadings, we take as true the material facts alleged in petitioners' complaint. Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Trustees of Rex Hospital, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976). On September 26, 1970, petitioners, both white, and Charles Jackson, a Negro employee of Santa Fe, were jointly and severally charged with misappropriating 60 one-gallon cans of antifreeze which was part of a shipment Santa Fe was carrying for one of its customers. Six days later, petitioners were fired by Santa Fe, while Jackson was retained. A grievance was promptly filed with Local 988, pursuant to the collective-bargaining agreement between the two respondents, but grievance proceedings secured no relief. The following April, complaints were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging that Santa Fe had discriminated against both petitioners on the basis of their race in firing them, and that Local 988 had discriminated against McDonald on the basis of his race in failing properly to represent his interests in the grievance proceedings, all in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Agency process proved equally unavailing for petitioners, however, and the EEOC notified them in July 1971 of their right under the Act to initiate a civil action in district court within 30 days. This suit followed, petitioners joining their § 1981 claim to their Title VII allegations.

[ 427 U.S. Page 277]

     Respondents moved to dismiss the complaint, and in June 1974 the District Court issued a final modified opinion and order dismissing petitioners' claims under both Title VII and § 1981. Turning first to the § 1981 claim, the District Court determined that § 1981 is wholly inapplicable to racial discrimination against white persons, and dismissed the claim for want of jurisdiction. Turning then to petitioners' claims under Title VII, the District Court concluded it had no jurisdiction over Laird's Title VII claim against Local 988, because Laird had not filed any charge against Local 988 with the EEOC.*fn1 Respondent Santa Fe additionally contended that petitioners' EEOC charges against it, filed more than 90 days after their discharge, were untimely.*fn2 Apparently relying upon Fifth Circuit authority for the proposition that the 90-day period for filing with the EEOC was tolled during the pendency of grievance proceedings,

[ 427 U.S. Page 278]

     however,*fn3 the District Court concluded that the question of timely filing with the EEOC could not be determined without a hearing on petitioners' allegations that they had not been notified until April 3, 1971, of the termination of the grievance proceedings.*fn4 But the District Court found it unnecessary to hold such a hearing, since it concluded, quite apart from any timeliness problem, that "the dismissal of white employees charged with misappropriating company property while not dismissing a similarly charged Negro employee does not raise a claim upon which Title VII relief may be granted." App. 117.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, per curiam, 513 F.2d 90 (1975), noting in regard to the Title VII claim asserted: "There is no allegation that the plaintiffs were falsely charged. Disciplinary action for offenses not constituting crimes is not involved in this case." Id., at 90-91. We granted certiorari. 423 U.S. 923 (1975). We reverse.

II

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the discharge of "any individual" because of "such individual's race," § 703 (a)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 (a)(1).*fn5 Its terms are not limited to discrimination

[ 427 U.S. Page 279]

     against members of any particular race. Thus, although we were not there confronted with racial discrimination against whites, we described the Act in Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 431 (1971), as prohibiting "[d]iscriminatory preference for any [racial] group, minority or majority" (emphasis added).*fn6 Similarly the EEOC, whose interpretations are entitled to great deference, id., at 433-434, has consistently interpreted Title VII to proscribe racial discrimination in private employment against whites on the same terms as racial discrimination against nonwhites, holding that to proceed otherwise would S

"constitute a derogation of the Commission's Congressional

[ 427 U.S. Page 280]

     mandate to eliminate all practices which operate to disadvantage the employment opportunities of any group protected by Title VII, including Caucasians." EEOC Decision No. 74-31, 7 FEP 1326, 1328, CCH EEOC Decisions P 6404, p. 4084 (1973)].*fn7

This conclusion is in accord with uncontradicted legislative history to the effect that Title VII was intended to "cover white men and white women and all Americans," 110 Cong. Rec. 2578 (1964) (remarks of Rep. Celler), (1964), and create an "obligation not to discriminate against whites," id., at 7218 (memorandum of Sen. Clark). See also id., at 7213 (memorandum of Sens. Clark and Case); id., at 8912 (remarks of Sen. Williams). We therefore hold today that Title VII prohibits racial discrimination against the white petitioners in this case upon the same standards as would be applicable were they Negroes and Jackson white.*fn8

[ 427 U.S. Page 281]

     Respondents contend that, even though generally applicable to white persons, Title VII affords petitioners no protection in this case, because their dismissal was based upon their commission of a serious criminal offense against their employer. We think this argument is foreclosed by our decision in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).*fn9

In McDonnell Douglas, a laid-off employee took part in an illegal "stall-in" designed to block traffic into his former employer's plant, and was arrested, convicted, and fined for obstructing traffic. At a later date, the former employee applied for an open position with the company, for which he was apparently otherwise qualified, but the employer turned down the application, assertedly because of the former employee's illegal activities against it. Charging that he was denied re-employment because he was a Negro, a claim the company denied, the former employee sued under Title VII. Reviewing the case on certiorari, we concluded that the rejected employee had adequately stated a claim under

[ 427 U.S. Page 282]

     Title VII. See id., at 801. Although agreeing with the employer that "[n]othing in Title VII compels an employer to absolve and rehire one who has engaged in such deliberate, unlawful activity against it," id., at 803, we also recognized: S

"[T]he inquiry must not end here. While Title VII does not, without more, compel rehiring of [the former employee], neither does it permit [the employer] to use [the former employee's] conduct as a pretext for the sort of discrimination prohibited by [the Act]. On remand, [the former employee] must... be afforded a fair opportunity to show that [the employer's] stated reason for [the former employee's] rejection was in fact pretext. Especially relevant to such a showing would be evidence that white employees involved in acts against [the employer] of comparable seriousness to the 'stall-in' were nevertheless retained or rehired. [The employer] may justifiably refuse to rehire one who was engaged in unlawful, disruptive acts against it, but only if this criterion is applied alike to members of all races." Id., at 804.*fn10

We find this case indistinguishable from McDonnell Douglas. Fairly read, the complaint asserted that petitioners were discharged for their alleged participation in a misappropriation of cargo entrusted to Santa Fe, but that a fellow employee, likewise implicated, was not so disciplined, and that the reason for the discrepancy in

[ 427 U.S. Page 283]

     discipline was that the favored employee is Negro while petitioners are white. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).*fn11 While Santa Fe may decide that participation in a theft of cargo may render an employee unqualified for employment, this criterion must be "applied, alike to members of all races," and Title VII is violated if, as petitioners alleged, it was not.

We cannot accept respondents' argument that the principles of McDonnell Douglas are inapplicable where the discharge was based, as petitioners' complaint admitted, on participation in serious misconduct or crime*fn12 directed against the employer. The Act prohibits all racial discrimination in employment, without exception for any group of particular employees, and while crime or other misconduct may be a legitimate basis for discharge, it is hardly one for racial discrimination. Indeed,

[ 427 U.S. Page 284]

     the Title VII plaintiff in McDonnell Douglas had been convicted for a nontrivial*fn13 offense against his former employer. It may be that theft of property entrusted to an employer for carriage is a more compelling basis for discharge than obstruction of an employer's traffic arteries, but this does not diminish the illogic in retaining guilty employees of one color while discharging those of another color.*fn14

At this stage of the litigation the claim against Local 988 must go with the claim against Santa Fe, for in substance the complaint alleges that the union shirked its duty properly to represent McDonald, and instead "acquiesced and/or joined in" Santa Fe's alleged racial discrimination against him. Local 988 argues that as a matter of law it should not be subject to liability under Title VII in a situation, such as this, where some but not all culpable employees are ultimately discharged on account of joint misconduct, because in representing all the affected employees in their relations with the employer,

[ 427 U.S. Page 285]

     the union may necessarily have to compromise by securing retention of only some. We reject the argument. The same reasons which prohibit an employer from discriminating on the basis of race among the culpable employees apply equally to the union; and whatever factors the mechanisms of compromise may legitimately take into account in mitigating discipline of some employees, under Title VII race may not be among them.

Thus, we conclude that the District Court erred in dismissing both petitioners' Title VII claims against Santa Fe, and petitioner McDonald's Title VII claim against Local 988.

III

Title 42 U.S.C. § 1981 provides in pertinent part: "All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts... as is enjoyed by white citizens...."*fn15 We have previously held, where discrimination against Negroes was in question, that § 1981 affords a federal remedy against discrimination in private employment on the basis of race, and respondents do not contend otherwise. Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, 421 U.S. 454, 459-460 (1975). See also Runyon v. McCrary, ante, at 168; Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968). The question here is

[ 427 U.S. Page 286]

     whether § 1981 prohibits racial discrimination in private employment against whites as well as nonwhites.*fn16

While neither of the courts below elaborated its reasons for not applying § 1981 to racial discrimination against white persons, respondents suggest two lines of argument to support that judgment. First, they argue that by operation of the phrase "as is enjoyed by white citizens," § 1981 unambiguously limits itself to the protection of nonwhite persons against racial discrimination. Second, they contend that such a reading is consistent with the legislative history of the provision, which derives its operative language from § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Act of Apr. 9, 1866, c. 31, § 1, 14 Stat. 27. See Runyon v. McCrary, ante, at 168-170, n. 8; Tillman v. Wheaton-Haven Recreation Assn., 410 U.S. 431, 439 (1973). The 1866 statute, they assert, was concerned predominantly with assuring specified civil rights to the former Negro slaves freed by virtue of the Thirteenth Amendment, and not at all with protecting the corresponding civil rights of white persons.

We find neither argument persuasive. Rather, our examination of the language and history of § 1981 convinces

[ 427 U.S. Page 287]

     us that § 1981 is applicable to racial discrimination in private employment against white persons.

First, we cannot accept the view that the terms of § 1981 exclude its application to racial discrimination against white persons. On the contrary, the statute explicitly applies to " all persons" (emphasis added), including white persons. See, e.g., United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649, 675-676 (1898). While a mechanical reading of the phrase "as is enjoyed by white citizens" would seem to lend support to respondents' reading of the statute, we have previously described this phrase simply as emphasizing "the racial character of the rights being protected," Georgia v. Rachel, 384 U.S. 780, 791 (1966). In any event, whatever ambiguity there may be in the language of § 1981, see cases cited, supra, at 286 n. 16, is clarified by an examination of the legislative history of § 1981's language as it was originally forged in the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Tidewater Oil Co. v. United States, 409 U.S. 151, 157 (1972); Immigration Service v. Errico, 385 U.S. 214, 218 (1966). It is to this subject that we now turn.

The bill ultimately enacted as the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was introduced by Senator Trumbull of Illinois as a "bill... to protect all persons in the United States in their civil rights..." (emphasis added), and was initially described by him as applying to "every race and color." Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 211 (1866) (hereinafter Cong. Globe). Consistent with the views of its draftsman,*fn17 and the prevailing view in the Congress as to the reach of its powers under the enforcement section

[ 427 U.S. Page 288]

     of the Thirteenth Amendment,*fn18 the terms of the bill prohibited any racial discrimination in the making and enforcement of contracts against whites as well as nonwhites. Its first section provided:

"[T]here shall be no discrimination in civil rights or immunities among the inhabitants of any State or Territory of the United States on account of race, color, or previous condition of slavery; but the inhabitants of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude,... shall have the same right to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, to the contrary notwithstanding." Id., at 211.*fn19

[ 427 U.S. Page 289]

     While it is, of course, true that the immediate impetus for the bill was the necessity for further relief of the constitutionally emancipated former Negro slaves, the general discussion of the scope of the bill did not circumscribe its broad language to that limited goal. On the contrary, the bill was routinely viewed, by its opponents and supporters alike, as applying to the civil rights of whites as well as nonwhites.*fn20 The point was most directly focused on in the closing debate in the Senate.

[ 427 U.S. Page 290]

     During that debate, in response to the argument of Senator Davis of Kentucky that by providing for the punishment of racial discrimination in its enforcement section, § 2, the bill extended to Negroes a protection never afforded whites, Senator Trumbull said:

"Sir, this bill applies to white men as well as black men. It declares that all persons in the United States shall be entitled to the same civil rights, the right to the fruit of their own labor, the right to make contracts, the right to buy and sell, and enjoy liberty and happiness; and that is abominable and iniquitous and unconstitutional! Could anything be more monstrous or more abominable than for a member of the Senate to rise in his place and denounce with such epithets as these a bill, the only object of which is to secure equal rights to all the citizens of the country, a bill that protects a white man just as much as a black man? With what consistency and with what face can a Senator in his place here say to the Senate and the country that this is a bill for the benefit of black men exclusively when there is no such distinction in it, and when the very object of the bill is to break down all discrimination between black men and white men?" Id., at 599 (emphasis supplied).

So advised, the Senate passed the bill shortly thereafter. Id., at 606-607.

It is clear, thus, that the bill, as it passed the Senate, was not limited in scope to discrimination against nonwhites. Accordingly, respondents pitch their legislative history argument largely upon the House's amendment of the Senate bill to add the "as is enjoyed by white citizens" phrase. But the statutory history is equally clear that that phrase was not intended to have the

[ 427 U.S. Page 291]

     effect of eliminating from the bill the prohibition of racial discrimination against whites.

Representative Wilson of Iowa, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the bill's floor manager in the House, proposed the addition of the quoted phrase immediately upon the introduction of the bill. The change was offered explicitly to technically "perfect" the bill, and was accepted as such without objection or debate. Id., at 1115.

That Wilson's amendment was viewed simply as a technical adjustment without substantive effect is corroborated by the structure of the bill as it then stood. Even as amended the bill still provided that "there shall be no discrimination in civil rights or immunities among citizens of the United States in any State or Territory of the United States on account of race, color, or previous condition of slavery."*fn21 To read Wilson's amendment as excluding white persons from the particularly enumerated

[ 427 U.S. Page 292]

     civil rights guarantees of the Act would contradict this more general language; and we would be unwilling to conclude, without further evidence, that in adopting the amendment without debate or discussion, the House so regarded it.*fn22

Moreover, Representative Wilson's initial elaboration on the meaning of Senator Trumbull's bill, which immediately followed his securing passage of the foregoing amendment, fortifies our view that the amended bill was intended to protect whites as well as nonwhites. As Wilson described it, the purpose of the measure was to provide "for the equality of citizens... in the enjoyment of 'civil rights and immunities.'" Id., at 1117. Then, speaking in particular of "immunities" as "'freedom or exemption from obligation,'" he made clear that the bill "secures to citizens of the United States equality in the exemptions of the law.... Whatever exemptions there may be shall apply to all citizens alike. One race shall not be more favored in this respect than

[ 427 U.S. Page 293]

     another," ibid.*fn23 Finally, in later dialogue Wilson made quite clear that the purpose of his amendment was not to affect the Act's protection of white persons. Rather, he stated, "the reason for offering [the amendment] was this: it was thought by some persons that unless these qualifying words were incorporated in the bill, those rights might be extended to all citizens, whether male or female, majors or minors." Cong. Globe, App. 157. Thus, the purpose of the amendment was simply "to emphasize the racial character of the rights being protected," Georgia v. Rachel, 384 U.S., at 791, not to limit its application to nonwhite persons.*fn24

[ 427 U.S. Page 294]

     The Senate debate on the House version of the bill*fn25 likewise emphasizes that Representative Wilson's amendment was not viewed as limiting the bill's prohibition of racial discrimination against white persons. Senator Trumbull, still managing the bill on the floor of the Senate, was asked whether there was not an inconsistency between the application of the bill to all "citizens of every race and color" and the statement that they shall have "the same right to make and enforce contracts... as is enjoyed by white persons," (emphasis supplied) and it was suggested that the emphasized words were superfluous.

[ 427 U.S. Page 295]

     Cong. Globe 1413. Senator Trumbull responded in agreement with the view that the words were merely "superfluous. I do not think they alter the bill.... [A]nd as in the opinion of the [Senate Judiciary] [C]committee which examined this matter they did not alter the meaning of the bill, the committee thought proper to recommend a concurrence...." Ibid.

Finally, after the Senate's acquiescence in the House version of the bill, id., at 1413-1416, and the subsequent veto by President Johnson,*fn26 the debate in both the Senate and the House again reflected the proponents' views that the bill did not favor nonwhites. Senator Trumbull once more rejected the view that the bill "discriminates in favor of colored persons," id., at 1758, and in a similar vein, Representative Lawrence observed in the House that its "broad and comprehensive philanthropy which regards all men in their civil rights as equal before the law, is not made for any... race or color... but... will, if it become[s] a law, protect every citizen...." Id., at 1833. On these notes, both Houses passed the bill by the prescribed margins, and the veto was overridden. Id., at 1802, 1861.

This cumulative evidence of congressional intent makes clear, we think, that the 1866 statute, designed to protect the "same right... to make and enforce contracts" of "citizens of every race and color" was not understood or intended to be reduced by Representative Wilson's amendment, or any other provision, to the protection solely of nonwhites. Rather, the Act was meant, by its broad terms, to proscribe discrimination in the making or enforcement of contracts against, or in favor of, any race. Unlikely as it might have appeared in 1866

[ 427 U.S. Page 296]

     that white citizens would encounter substantial racial discrimination of the sort proscribed under the Act, the statutory structure and legislative history persuade us that the 39th Congress was intent upon establishing in the federal law a broader principle than would have been necessary simply to meet the particular and immediate plight of the newly freed Negro slaves. And while the statutory language has been somewhat streamlined in re-enactment and codification, there is no indication that § 1981 is intended to provide any less than the Congress enacted in 1866 regarding racial discrimination against white persons. Runyon v. McCrary, ante, at 168, and n. 8. Thus, we conclude that the District Court erred in dismissing petitioners' claims under § 1981 on the ground that the protections of that provision are unavailable to white persons.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

So ordered.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST join Parts I and II of the Court's opinion, but for the reasons stated in MR. JUSTICE WHITE'S dissenting opinion in Runyon v. McCrary, ante, p. 192, cannot join Part III since they do not agree that § 1981 is applicable in this case. To that extent they dissent.

Counsel FOOTNOTES

* Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Samuel Rabinove for the American Jewish Committee; and by Gerard C. Smetana, Jerry Kronenberg, Lawrence B. Kraus, and Richard B. Berman for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States.

Briefs of amici curiae were filed by Larry M. Lavinsky, Arnold Forster, Amos Alter, and Donald A. Derfner for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith; and by Jack Greenberg, Barry L. Goldstein, and Eric Schnapper for the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.


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