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Williams v. General Foods Corp.

decided: February 28, 1974.


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

Clark, Associate Justice,*fn* Castle, Senior Circuit Judge, Grant,*fn** Senior District Judge.

Author: Castle

CASTLE, Senior Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Charlene Williams*fn1 appeals from orders granting summary judgment to defendant General Foods Corporation ("the Corporation") and dismissing the complaint against defendants American Federation of Grain Millers Local No. 70 and American Federation of Grain Millers International AFL-CIO ("the Unions") in a class action*fn2 alleging sex discrimination in employment practices by the Corporation and the Unions and claiming denial of fair representation by the Unions. On appeal, Williams asserts that since discriminatory intention is not a necessary element of employment practices proscribed by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., a defense of good faith is legally irrelevant; therefore, the lower court erroneously granted judgment as a matter of law to the Corporation. Moreover, since the court relied solely on the Corporation's good faith in dismissing the complaint against the Unions, the dismissal of the complaint was also error. We have considered these issues, and we reverse the order granting summary judgment to the Corporation while affirming the dismissal of the complaint against the Unions.

Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, guaranteeing sex equality of occupational opportunity, the Corporation attempted to resolve that statute with the Illinois Female Employment Act, Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 48, § 5 et seq. (1971), which prevented the exploitation of women employed by industry by providing that they may not work more than 48 hours per week nor more than 9 hours on one day per week. In 1965, the Corporation began to eliminate sex discrimination in all jobs at its Kankakee, Illinois operations, except where required by the Illinois Female Employment Act. Thus, to avoid violating the state statutory maximum number of work hours per day for women, the Corporation continued to schedule only males for early start-up overtime, which consisted of reporting two hours early on Monday mornings to prepare for the remainder of the shift to begin work at the regular 7 a.m. starting time and remaining until the end of the shift at 3 p.m.

Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") had ruled that good faith reliance on state female protective laws, such as the Illinois Female Employment Act, constituted a legitimate exception to Title VII, the Corporation, foreseeing the conflict between federal and state legislation, requested of the Illinois Department of Labor an exemption from the Illinois Female Employment Act, in order to permit women to work early start-up overtime in full compliance with Title VII. The request was denied on the basis that Illinois law was not pre-empted by Title VII.

Subsequently, the EEOC rescinded its earlier ruling and declared that it would take no position on the relation between Title VII and state legislation. The Corporation's Labor Relations Committee, comprised of company and union representatives, which had been eliminating sex distinctions in other employment categories, decided that women must be allowed to work early start-up overtime. To implement this decision and yet satisfy the maximum hours permitted by state law, the Committee concluded that women working early start-up overtime would complete work at 2 p.m., an hour prior to the scheduled termination of the shift.

Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between the Corporation and the Unions, Williams filed a grievance on June 7, 1968 protesting the 2 p.m. quitting time for women. This grievance was advanced to the fourth stage of the agreement's procedure; it was then deferred to permit the Corporation to seek permission again from the Illinois Department of Labor for women to work the full shift, a request which was later refused. On December 10, 1968, Williams filed a charge before the EEOC alleging that the loss of the tenth hour of wages by females working early start-up overtime was a discriminatory practice barred by Title VII, even if the Committee relied on state law.

The Corporation's legal dilemma was sharply defined when the EEOC announced that reliance on state protective legislation would no longer be considered a defense against a Title VII violation, while the Illinois Department of Labor stated that no exemption would be granted from the provision restricting the working hours of women. The Corporation determined to disregard state law and to afford women the opportunity to work the same number of early start-up overtime hours as male employees. The assignment of overtime opportunities was based on the collective bargaining agreement, which provided that such opportunities would be offered by shift or department daily to the qualified employee having the least number of overtime hours offered to him (as recorded on Corporation charts), whether or not such hours were actually worked. Further, an employee transferred to a new department or shift would be allotted the average number of overtime hours offered to all employees in that department or shift. To integrate women into the early start-up overtime program, the Labor Relations Committee decided that effective September 20, 1970, female employees would receive the average number of overtime hours offered to males in their department or shift, with seniority governing the ranking among females. After December 31, 1970, the ranking of both male and female employees would be determined by the actual number of hours of overtime opportunities offered to each employee.

After the EEOC notified Williams that conciliation efforts had failed, she and 24 female Corporation employees filed the class action in question on November 3, 1970. The plaintiffs requested declaratory and injunctive relief, the monetary equivalent of wages which would have been earned had the Corporation permitted women to work early start-up overtime, plus attorneys' fees and costs.

The court below, in granting the Corporation's motion for summary judgment, concluded that because the Corporation relied on the Illinois Female Employment Act in denying overtime opportunities to female employees, the Corporation lacked the discriminatory intent required by § 706(g) of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 42 U.S.C.§ 2000e-5(g). That section, however, is merely a limitation on forms of remedy; it is not an affirmative defense barring liability. Unlike the criterion specified there, "intentionally engaging in an unlawful employment practice," the standard of liability under Title VII is simply "engaging in unlawful employment practices." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. Thus, it is only necessary for Williams to establish that the Corporation engaged in employment practices proscribed by Title VII; the Corporation's intention is not pertinent. The Supreme Court has expressly rejected lack of discriminatory intent as a defense to Title VII liability, commenting, ". . . Congress directed the thrust of the Act to the consequences of employment practices, not simply the motivation. . . ." Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 432, 28 L. Ed. 2d 158, 91 S. Ct. 849 (1971). This interpretation is supported by both the statutory purpose and the scheme of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It would have been incongruous for Congress to have intended a defense resulting in the perpetuation of discriminatory employment practices (even if based on state law) in a federal law designed to achieve equality of occupational opportunity. Id. at 429. Further, the scheme of Title VII provides that employers are exempted from liability under state laws which require the doing of acts which constitute unlawful employment practices, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-7, Jones Metal Products Co. v. Walker, 29 Ohio St.2d 173, 281 N.E.2d 1 (1972), not that reliance on state statutes resulting in discriminatory practices bars Title VII liability, as the Corporation asserts. Moreover, instead of a defense to liability, the Corporation's reliance on the Illinois Female Employment Act in the structuring of employment opportunities evidences liability, for that law required employers "to limit, segregate or classify employees so as to deprive such employees of employment opportunities because of sex" and "to discriminate against individual employees with respect to compensation, terms, conditions and privileges of employment because of their sex" in contravention of Title VII. Caterpillar Tractor Co. v. Grabiec, 317 F. Supp. 1304, 1307 (S.D.Ill. 1970). As the lower court expressly found it undisputed that the Corporation distributed overtime opportunities unequally between its male and female employees, Williams' motion for summary judgment should have been granted and that of the Corporation denied.

The court's dismissal of the complaint against the Unions was predicated on the same grounds which supported the granting of summary judgment to the Corporation. Reversal of this holding, however, is not necessarily warranted, as it is a well-established principle that a lower court's decision will not be reversed if correct, even though the court assigned an incorrect reason for the decision. Riley Investment Co. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 311 U.S. 55, 59, 61 S. Ct. 95, 85 L. Ed. 36 (1940); Lusk v. Eastern Products Corp., 427 F.2d 705, 708 (4th Cir. 1970). Respecting the count of Williams' complaint alleging that the Unions' participation in the making of discriminatory overtime policy was a violation of Title VII, the Unions contend that dismissal was correctly ordered, since Williams failed to file a charge against the Unions before the EEOC. We note that the complaint does not allege that she ever filed a charge against the Unions; further, the record establishes that Williams' charge was in fact directed only against the Corporation. In Bowe v. Colgate-Palmolive Co., 416 F.2d 711 (7th Cir. 1968), this court plainly stated:

"It is a jurisdictional prerequisite to the filing of a suit under Title VII that a charge be filed with the EEOC against the party to be sued. 42 U.S.C. § 2000 e-5(e). This provision serves two important purposes. First, it notifies the charged party of the asserted violation. Secondly, it brings the charged party before the EEOC and permits effectuation of the Act's primary goal, the securing of voluntary compliance with the law." Id. at 719.

That rule is equally applicable here, since even if the Unions were aware of Williams' charges, they were denied the opportunity to participate in conciliation proceedings aimed at voluntary compliance under EEOC auspices. Accord, Cox v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 284 F. Supp. 74, 76 (N.D.Ind. 1968), aff'd., 409 F.2d 289 (7th Cir. 1969). Williams' reliance on Waters v. Wisconsin Steel Works, 427 F.2d 476 (7th Cir. 1970), cert. den., 400 U.S. 911, 91 S. Ct. 137, 27 L. Ed. 2d 151 (1970) is misplaced. In holding that an aggrieved person who pleads a reasonable excuse for failing to file a ...

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