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decided: February 20, 1980.



Stewart, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and White and Rehnquist, JJ., joined. Marshall, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan and Blackmun, JJ., joined, post, p. 611. Powell and Stevens, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Author: Stewart

[ 444 U.S. Page 600]

 MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964*fn1 makes unlawful, practices, procedures, or tests that "operate to 'freeze' the status quo of prior discriminatory employment practices." Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 430. To this rule, § 703 (h) of the Act, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-2 (h), provides an exception:

"[It] shall not be unlawful employment practice for an employer to apply different standards of compensation, or different terms, conditions, or privileges of employment pursuant to a bona fide seniority . . . system, . . . provided that such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate because of race. . . ."

In Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 352, the Court held that "the unmistakable purpose of § 703 (h) was to make clear that the routine application of a bona fide seniority system would not be unlawful under Title VII . . . even where the employer's pre-Act discrimination resulted in whites having greater existing seniority rights than Negroes."*fn2

The present case concerns the application of § 703 (h) to a particular clause in a California brewery industry collective-bargaining agreement. That agreement accords greater benefits to "permanent" than to "temporary" employees, and the

[ 444 U.S. Page 601]

     clause in question provides that a temporary employee must work at least 45 weeks in a single calendar year before he can become a permanent employee. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the 45-week requirement was not a "seniority system" or part of a "seniority system" within the meaning of § 703 (h). 585 F.2d 421. We granted certiorari to consider the important question presented under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 442 U.S. 916.


In 1973, respondent Bryant (hereafter respondent), a Negro, filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, on behalf of himself and other similarly situated Negroes, against the California Brewers Association and seven brewing companies (petitioners here), as well as against several unions. The complaint alleged that the defendants had discriminated against the respondent and other Negroes in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e et seq., and in violation of 42 U. S. C. § 1981.*fn3

The complaint, as amended, alleged that the respondent had been intermittently employed since May 1968 as a temporary employee of one of the defendants, the Falstaff Brewing Corp. It charged that all the defendant employers had discriminated in the past against Negroes, that the unions had acted in concert with the employers in such discrimination, and that the unions had discriminated in referring applicants from hiring halls to the employers. The complaint further asserted that this historical discrimination was being perpetuated by the seniority and referral provisions of the collective-bargaining agreement (Agreement) that governed

[ 444 U.S. Page 602]

     industrial relations at the plants of the seven defendant employers. In particular, the complaint alleged, the Agreement's requirement that a temporary employee work 45 weeks in the industry in a single calendar year to reach permanent status had, as a practical matter, operated to preclude the respondent and the members of his putative class from achieving, or from a reasonable opportunity of achieving, permanent employee status.*fn4 Finally, the complaint alleged that on at least one occasion one of the defendant unions had passed over the respondent in favor of more junior white workers in making referrals to job vacancies at a plant of one of the defendant employers.

The Agreement is a multiemployer collective-bargaining agreement negotiated more than 20 years ago, and thereafter updated, by the California Brewers Association (on behalf of the petitioner brewing companies) and the Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Workers Joint Board of California (on behalf of the defendant unions). The Agreement establishes several classes of employees and the respective rights of each with respect to hiring and layoffs. Three of these classes are pertinent here: "permanent," "temporary," and "new" employees.

A permanent employee is "any employee . . . who . . . has completed forty-five weeks of employment under this Agreement in one classification*fn5 in one calendar year as an employee of the brewing industry in [the State of California]." An employee who acquires permanent status retains

[ 444 U.S. Page 603]

     that status unless he "is not employed under this Agreement for any consecutive period of two (2) years. . . ."*fn6 A temporary employee under the Agreement is "any person other than a permanent employee . . . who worked under this agreement . . . in the preceding calendar year for at least sixty (60) working days. . . ." A new employee is any employee who is not a permanent or temporary employee.

The rights of employees with respect to hiring and layoffs depend in substantial part on their status as permanent, temporary, or new employees.*fn7 The Agreement requires that employees at a particular plant be laid off in the following order: new employees in reverse order of their seniority at the plant, temporary employees in reverse order of their plant seniority, and then permanent employees in reverse order of their plant seniority. Once laid off, employees are to be rehired in the reverse order from which they were laid off.

The Agreement also gives permanent employees special "bumping" rights. If a permanent employee is laid off at any plant subject to the Agreement, he may be dispatched by the union hiring hall to any other plant in the same local area with the right to replace the temporary or new employee with the lowest plant seniority at that plant.

Finally, the Agreement provides that each employer shall obtain employees through the local union hiring hall to fill needed vacancies. The hiring hall must dispatch laid-off workers to such an employer in the following order: first, employees of that employer in the order of their seniority with that employer; second, permanent employees registered in the area in order of their industry seniority; third, temporary employees in the order of their seniority in the industry; and

[ 444 U.S. Page 604]

     fourth, new employees in the order of their industry seniority. The employer then "shall have full right of selection among" such employees.

The District Court granted the defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. No opinion accompanied this order. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals reversed, 585 F.2d 421, concluding that the 45-week rule is not a "seniority system" or part of a "seniority system" within the meaning of § 703 (h) of Title VII. In the appellate court's view the provision "lacks the fundamental component of such a system" which is "the concept that employment rights should increase as the length of an employee's service increases." 585 F.2d, at 426. The court pointed out that under the Agreement some employees in the industry could acquire permanent status after a total of only 45 weeks of work if those weeks were served in one calendar year, while others "could work for many years and never attain permanent status because they were always terminated a few days before completing 45 weeks of work in any one year." Id., at 426-427.

The Court of Appeals concluded that "while the collective bargaining agreement does contain a seniority system, the 45-week provision is not a part of it." Id., at 427:

"The 45-week rule is simply a classification device to determine who enters the permanent employee seniority line and this function does not make the rule part of a seniority system. Otherwise any hiring policy (e. g., an academic degree requirement) or classification device (e. g., merit promotion) would become part of a seniority ...

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