UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT
WORKERS, LOCAL 102, SHEET METAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION, ET AL., APPELLANTS 1981.CDC.65
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C. Civil No. 75-0778).
Wilkey and Mikva, Circuit Judges, and James F. Gordon,* Senior Judge, United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge Mikva.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE MIKVA
This is an appeal from a preliminary injunction entered in a class action alleging wide -spread discrimination against blacks in the union sheet metal trade in the metropolitan Washington D.C. area. The appellants were enjoined from relying on apprentice selection criteria that, according to appellees, violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17 (1976). Finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in issuing the preliminary injunction, and that it did not lack jurisdiction over the case presented, we affirm. I. PROCEDURAL POSTURE
The appellees are black would-be sheet metal workers, representing a class of "black persons who have been or may be excluded from membership in Sheet Metal Workers Local 102 because of their race." *fn1 They allege both intentionally discriminatory actions and employment practices with racially disproportionate impact, resulting in the exclusion of black workers from journeyman status and membership in the union.
Some of appellees' allegations center on an apprenticeship program administered by appellant Joint Apprenticeship Committee, pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between appellant Sheet Metal Workers Local 102 and appellant Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors National Association, Washington, D.C. Chapter, Inc. (hereinafter denominated collectively as JAC). JAC operates a four-year apprenticeship program designed to train individuals to become journeymen sheet metal workers. In addition, at one time JAC ran a "preapprentice" program for minority workers only; the district court found that preapprentices received no training, and that the program "was initiated as a means of increasing the number of minorities counted as sheet metal workers in order to meet government contract requirements." Reynolds v. Sheet Metal Workers Local 102, 498 F. Supp. 952, 958-59 (D.D.C. 1980). This program was abandoned in late 1974. Id.
The preliminary injunction involved in the present appeal prohibits selection of new apprentices on the basis of certain criteria that JAC has historically used. JAC had required apprenticeship applicants to provide a high school transcript, to present a high school diploma or the equivalent, to answer questions about arrest records, and to submit to a subjectively graded personal interview. The appellees claim that these criteria are not job-related, and that they result in a disproportionate exclusion of blacks from the apprenticeship program, and thereby from the union, in violation of Title VII. See Griggs v. Duke Power Co., 401 U.S. 424, 28 L. Ed. 2d 158, 91 S. Ct. 849 (1971). The district court concluded that appellees had successfully presented a prima facie case that the selection procedure was unlawful, and that JAC had failed to rebut that showing and appeared unlikely to do so at trial. 498 F. Supp. at 974.
JAC has exercised the right to an interlocutory appeal from the preliminary injunction, as afforded by 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1) (1976). It is well settled that preliminary relief is within the sound discretion of the trial court, and that an appellate court will not reverse such a grant of relief unless the district court lacked jurisdiction over the controversy, or abused its discretion, or based its grant on an error of law. Deckert v. Independence Shares Corp., 311 U.S. 282, 85 L. Ed. 189, 61 S. Ct. 229 (1941); Delaware & Hudson Ry. Co. v. United Transportation Union, 146 U.S. App. D.C. 142, 450 F.2d 603 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 403 U.S. 911, 29 L. Ed. 2d 689, 91 S. Ct. 2209 (1971); 11 C. WRIGHT & A. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 2962 (1973). The trial court's discretion is to be exercised in accordance with the traditional equitable standard:
The movant must show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, and that irreparable harm would flow from the denial of an injunction. In addition, the trial judge must consider the inconvenience that an injunction would cause the opposing party, and must weigh the public interest as well.
A Quaker Action Group v. Hickel, 137 U.S. App. D.C. 176, 421 F.2d 1111, 1116 (D.C. Cir. 1969). The district court cited this standard as the basis of its decision. 498 F. Supp. at 974-75 (citing Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Comm'n v. Holiday Tours, Inc., 182 U.S. App. D.C. 220, 559 F.2d 841, 844 (D.C. Cir. 1977)). II. THE DISTRICT COURT DID NOT LACK JURISDICTION
JAC argues on appeal that the district court lacked jurisdiction to grant the preliminary injunction because it did not possess subject matter jurisdiction over the underlying controversy. This would indeed be a serious defect, entirely vitiating the court's action, and robbing this court as well of jurisdiction to do anything other than reverse and remand with instructions to dismiss. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and are obliged always to ascertain whether they have subject matter jurisdiction over the litigation before them, even when the parties prefer to ignore the question. Mansfield, Coldwater & Lake Michigan Ry. Co. v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379, 28 L. Ed. 462, 4 S. Ct. 510 (1884). We conclude, however, that JAC's attacks on the jurisdiction of the district court are baseless, and reflect a misapprehension of the nature of class action litigation and of the timely filing requirements of Title VII.
JAC's argument focuses on the facts surrounding the filing of the present suit by the six named plaintiffs whom the district court has empowered to represent the class. Four of the named plaintiffs were forced into the preapprenticeship program before they were permitted to become apprentices, while a fifth entered the apprenticeship program directly. All five were subsequently dropped before completing the program. The sixth named plaintiff finished his apprenticeship and ...