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GENERAL TELEPHONE COMPANY NORTHWEST v. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION ET AL.

decided: May 12, 1980.

GENERAL TELEPHONE COMPANY OF THE NORTHWEST, INC., ET AL
v.
EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION ET AL.



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

White, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Brennan, Stewart, Marshall, and Blackmun, JJ., joined. Burger, C. J., and Powell, Rehnquist, and Stevens, JJ., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 334.

Author: White

[ 446 U.S. Page 320]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may seek classwide relief under § 706 (f)(1) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) without being certified as the class representative under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that certification was not required. 599 F.2d 322 (1979). Because this is a recurring issue on which the federal courts are divided,*fn1 we granted certiorari, 444 U.S. 989 (1979). We affirm the judgment.

I

Four employees of General Telephone Company of the Northwest, Inc. (General Telephone), filed charges with the EEOC complaining of sex discrimination in employment. After investigation, the EEOC found reasonable cause to suspect discrimination against women, and in April 1977 brought suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington under § 706 (f)(1) of Title VII, as amended, § 4, 86 Stat. 105, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5 (f)(1).*fn2

[ 446 U.S. Page 321]

     The EEOC named as defendants General Telephone and its subsidiary, West Coast Telephone Company of California, Inc. (hereinafter collectively referred to as General Telephone), as well as the certified bargaining agent, Local Union No. 89, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The complaint alleged discrimination against female employees in General Telephone's facilities in the States of California, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon, in the form of restrictions on maternity leave, access to craft jobs, and promotion to managerial positions; it sought injunctive relief and backpay for the women affected by the challenged practices.

The complaint did not mention Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23,*fn3 and the EEOC did not seek class certification pursuant

[ 446 U.S. Page 322]

     to that Rule. In August 1977, the EEOC moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 42 (b) "for an order bifurcating the issue of class liability from the issue of individual damages." The District Court referred the motion to a Magistrate, see Title VII, § 706 (f)(5), and General Telephone moved "for an order dismissing the class action aspects" of the complaint.*fn4

[ 446 U.S. Page 323]

     The Magistrate concluded that the EEOC was not required to comply with Rule 23 and recommended that the motion be denied. The District Court adopted the recommendation, denied the motion to dismiss, and then certified the issue for interlocutory appeal to the Ninth Circuit. The Court of Appeals accepted the appeal, see 28 U. S. C. § 1292 (b), and affirmed the District Court's ruling.

II

We agree with the Court of Appeals that Rule 23 is not applicable to an enforcement action brought by the EEOC in its own name and pursuant to its authority under § 706 to prevent unlawful employment practices.*fn5 We rely on the language of Title VII, the legislative intent underlying the 1972 amendments to Title VII, and the enforcement procedures under Title VII prior to the amendments.

A

Title VII protects all employees of and applicants for employment with a covered employer, employment agency, labor organization, or training program against discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Section 706 (a) empowers the EEOC "to prevent any person from ...


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