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LAFFEY v. NORTHWEST AIRLINES

November 12, 1973

Mary P. Laffey et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Northwest Airlines, Inc., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBINSON, JR.

 The above-entitled matter came on for trial before the undersigned Judge of the above Court commencing on December 4, 1972, and continuing thereafter until January 10, 1973.

 Based upon the oral testimony at trial, the designated deposition testimony submitted to the Court, exhibits introduced by both parties, and all of the files, records and proceedings herein, the Court being duly advised in the premises, in accordance with Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, makes and enters its Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order for Judgment as follows:

 Findings of Fact

 1. The named Plaintiffs are female cabin attendant employees of Northwest Airlines, Inc., and this action has been certified as a class action on behalf of all NWA female cabin attendants employed at any time from July 2, 1965 to the present.

 2. The Defendant, NWA, is an air carrier which was formed in 1926, and it currently maintains its corporate headquarters and main base at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in Minnesota.

 3. NWA first began passenger service between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Chicago, and from 1927 to 1946, extended its routes to other cities in the continental United States. Virtually all of NWA's flights cross state lines, and it is engaged in interstate commerce. In 1947 NWA began scheduled service to the Orient, and since that date has increased the number of its routes within and without the continental limits of the United States. NWA has used various types of equipment to fly these routes over the years, including (1) propeller driven equipment accommodating between approximately 25 and 100 passengers with a cabin crew complement of two or three, (2) jet equipment accommodating between approximately 100 and 150 passengers with a cabin crew complement of five, and (3) the new wide-bodied jet equipment, including the 747 and the DC-10, carrying as many as 362 passengers with a cabin crew complement of as many as sixteen.

 4. NWA's international operations are extremely competitive, much more so than its domestic operations. There is no significant market in NWA's international system that is not competitive with at least two or more international carriers. Most of these carriers are significantly larger than NWA and also have the competitive advantage of operating around the world, thus being able to carry through-traffic beyond the New York and Hong Kong termination points of NWA's system.

 5. In a normal year not subject to the impact of a strike, NWA handles approximately seven million passengers producing gross revenues of approximately $450 million. This ranks NWA approximately seventh among the eleven trunk carriers in the United States. From 1968 through 1970, NWA lead all United States air carriers in annual net profits, earning between 44.5 and 51.5 million dollars per year. In 1971, NWA was second in net profits with nearly 21.5 million dollars, the drop being attributed to the effects of a labor strike in the latter part of 1970.

 6. All cabin attendants employed by NWA between 1927 and 1947 were females classified as stewardesses. The company has continued to employ females in the stewardess classification up to and including the present time. In 1947, the Company established a cabin attendant classification of purser. From 1947 through June 15, 1967, the Company followed an express policy of confining the purser job solely to males. In 1949, the Company established a cabin attendant classification of flight service attendant (FSA), which has always been filled exclusively by males. The FSA classification was established when the Company began utilizing a plane called the Boeing Stratocruiser, which had a sunken bar lounge. The Company decided that a male cabin attendant should be assigned to the bartending function (as well as other cabin attendant duties) on this plane. Except for the cocktail service on this plane, FSA's were hired to perform the same duties that female stewardesses performed.

 7. On December 17, 1946, the National Mediation Board certified Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Association, International (hereinafter "ALSSA") as the duly designated collective bargaining representative of NWA's female cabin attendants. This certification subsequently was amended on October 22, 1948, to provide that ALSSA also was the duly designated representative of NWA's pursers, and again on June 20, 1950, to provide the same representative for NWA's male cabin attendants. On July 7, 1961, ALSSA having affiliated with the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, the National Mediation Board certified "Air Line Stewards and Stewardesses Association, International, Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO" as the duly designated representative of all cabin attendant and purser employees of NWA. In 1971 NWA's cabin attendants and pursers voted to replace ALSSA with Air Line Pilots Association, International (hereinafter "ALPA") as their representative, and the National Mediation Board so certified on September 17, 1971. ALPA has joined this action as a "non-aligned party."

 8. At all times the membership of NWA's cabin attendant class or craft (including pursers) represented by ALSSA or ALPA has been predominantly female, so that females always have and still do possess a clear numerical superiority over males in the affairs of the class or craft and the union representative. The members are called upon to vote for their representatives within the internal union structure, to state their views and proposals in connection with collective bargaining, to ratify new agreements, and otherwise to participate in the process by which their rates of pay, rules and working conditions are established.

 9. At all times from December 17, 1946 to date, NWA has entered into collective bargaining negotiations and agreements with the certified union representative, ALSSA or ALPA, pursuant to the mandate of and the procedures outlined in the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. The agreements have covered all United States-based cabin attendants and pursers, but not those based in the Orient and assigned exclusively to flights within the Orient ["interport"].

 10. Since at least 1943, NWA has employed female cabin attendants as "stewardesses." In the first collective bargaining agreement, dated September 19, 1947, a "stewardess" was defined as:

 
. . . an employee who is responsible for the performing or assisting in the performance of all enroute cabin service, or ground service, to delayed or canceled passengers, and shall include the responsibility for the welfare, comfort, enjoyment and safety of the passengers, as prescribed by the Company regulations.

 A salary was established for that position. The definition has continued to the present, and the salary has increased over time by union negotiation and agreement.

 11. In 1947 when NWA obtained and began flying routes to and through the Orient, the purser classification was established. In the first collective bargaining agreement including pursers, dated January 1, 1949, the position of "flight purser" was defined as follows:

 
"Flight Purser" means an employee on the international division whose work includes performing and assisting in the performance of all enroute cabin service, attending to passenger comfort, responsibility for the preparation and completion of passenger, crew, and cargo manifests and other reports and documents as may be required by the Company or by law. A flight purser may be designated to perform necessary duties in connection with flight cargo operations, may be designated as being in charge of other cabin attendants, may be required to accept special assignments related to flight purser duties, and from time to time may be requested to participate in publicity and promotional assignments not in violation of any of the terms of this Agreement.

 The definition of a "purser" has continued to the present time. A salary was established for the purser position at a rate higher than that for the stewardess position. The salary for the position has increased over time pursuant to union negotiation and agreement.

 12. In 1949 NWA began hiring male cabin attendants as "flight service attendants" [FSA's] to fly particularly on the Boeing Stratocruiser aircraft. They were to perform essentially the same duties as female cabin attendants on those and other flights. Effective with the 1951 collective bargaining agreement, FSA's were included in the definition of "Stewardess" appearing in the earlier agreement, which was carried forward thereafter.

 13. Beginning with the 1951 collective bargaining agreement and continuing thereafter to date, a combined purser-FSA seniority list was created by virtue of which FSA's began accruing seniority as pursers immediately upon commencing their duties as FSA's.

 14. From 1951 until the June 15, 1967 collective bargaining agreement, FSA's had a contractual right to fill purser vacancies in seniority order. From 1951 on, as permanent vacancies in the purser position arose, notices of the purser vacancies were posted, addressed only to male employees. At no time did the Company fail to award a purser vacancy to the most senior FSA bidding for it. The Company's policy was that any FSA who had successfully completed his FSA probationary period was thereby deemed qualified for purser vacancies.

 15. As temporary vacancies in purser positions arose, FSA's were temporarily elevated to fill such vacancies and received purser pay for doing so. When they were promoted to permanent purser positions, they received credit on the purser pay scale for the time spent filling temporary purser vacancies.

 16. FSA's who chose to pass up promotional opportunities to purser and then later promoted to purser jumped ahead for all seniority purposes, of junior employees who had been promoted ahead of them.

 17. The Company hired its last FSA in 1957 (the discontinued use of the Boeing Stratocruiser having eliminated the Company's interest in having FSA's). Between 1957 and 1964 all purser vacancies were filled by the promotion of FSA's in the manner described above. By mid-1964, the Company had exhausted the supply of FSA's who desired elevation to purser positions. As subsequent purser vacancies arose, the Company invoked its contractual right to transfer "the most junior employee" to force the remaining few FSA's who were based in Minneapolis to transfer to the Seattle base and fill purser vacancies. By May 1965, there remained only three FSA's, all voluntarily based in Honolulu flying on military charter flights for the United States Government, certain of which required the use of male cabin attendants only.

 18. As of May 1, 1965, just prior to the effective date of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Company employed 48 male pursers, no female pursers, three male FSA's, and 724 female stewardesses.

 19. The last purser was hired by the Company on April 25, 1970. As of that date, the Company employed 137 male cabin attendants, all as pursers, and 1,747 female cabin attendants, all but one classified as stewardesses. (The single female purser was Mary P. Laffey, who was promoted from the classification of stewardess effective October 4, 1967.)

 20. Between May 1, 1965, and May 1, 1970, the Company hired 118 new male cabin attendants, all of them as pursers. During the same period, it hired 2,224 new female cabin attendants, all of them as stewardesses.

 21. Recently, NWA has hired several male cabin attendants as "stewards" to perform the same duties as stewardesses and FSA's and at the same union negotiated and agreed upon rate of pay. At all times from 1949 to the present, FSA's and stewards have been compensated at the same rate as stewardesses of equal longevity. The single compensation schedule provided by union contract for the cabin attendant classification establishes periodic increments based upon accumulated longevity in that classification. In addition to the basic compensation, cabin attendants engaged in "foreign flying" [flights to or from foreign countries, Alaska or Hawaii, excluding Winnipeg, Canada] have been compensated either according to a separate schedule at a higher rate or according to a specific hourly supplement. Pursers receive no such supplement.

 22. The Company and ALSSA engaged in collective bargaining negotiations in 1963 and 1964, from which eventuated the 1964 collective bargaining agreement. In those negotiations, ALSSA sought a provision which would permit stewardesses to progress to purser vacancies in seniority order after the last FSA who desired to become a purser had done so. The Company refused to agree to this proposal and it was not included in the 1964 agreement.

 
"d. Employees will be notified by posting on the bulletin board of any vacancies occurring within the purser classification. Stewardesses and flight service attendants will be given consideration if they make written application for any such positions. In considering the applications the Company will give consideration, among others, to the employee's past service record, length of service, leadership ability, and test results." (P-79, Sec. 9(d)).

 This provision replaced the following clause which had appeared in the 1964 agreement, as well as the preceding agreements:

 
"d. Flight service attendants will be given an opportunity to qualify as a flight purser at any time the Company desires provided that all promotions to the status of flight purser shall be in the order of their seniority subject to the provisions of this section."

 24. The opportunity for stewardesses to seek purser vacancies under the 1967 agreement differed from the manner in which FSA's previously filled such vacancies in the following additional respects:

 (a) The 1967 agreement contained a review procedure for stewardesses whose bids for purser vacancies were denied, but that procedure was available only to stewardesses who had "at least four (4) years of service with the Company on flights to which a purser has been assigned." The Company insisted on this limitation to discourage bids for purser vacancies by stewardesses who did not have four years flying with a purser. A ...


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