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Conley v. Gibson

Supreme Court of the United States

October 21, 1957, Argued ; November 18, 1957, Decided

No. 7


 [*42]   [***82]   [**100]  MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

 Once again Negro employees are here under the Railway Labor Act 1 [****4]  asking that their collective bargaining agent be compelled to represent them fairly. In a series of cases beginning with Steele v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co., 323 U.S. 192, this Court has emphatically and repeatedly ruled that ] an exclusive bargaining agent under the Railway Labor Act is obligated to represent all employees in the bargaining unit fairly and without discrimination because of race and has held that the courts have power to protect employees against such invidious discrimination. 2

This class suit was brought in a Federal District Court in Texas by  [***83]  certain Negro members of the Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, petitioners here, on behalf of themselves and other Negro employees similarly situated against the Brotherhood, its Local Union No. 28 and certain officers of both. In summary, the complaint  [*43]  made the following allegations relevant to our decision: Petitioners were employees of the Texas and New Orleans Railroad at its Houston Freight House. Local 28 of the Brotherhood was the designated bargaining agent under the Railway Labor Act for the bargaining unit to which petitioners belonged. A contract existed between the Union [****5]  and the Railroad which gave the employees in the bargaining unit certain protection from discharge and loss of seniority. In May 1954, the Railroad purported to abolish 45 jobs held by petitioners or other Negroes all of whom were either discharged or demoted. In truth the 45 jobs were not abolished at all but instead filled by whites as the Negroes were ousted, except for a few instances where Negroes were rehired to fill their old jobs but with loss of seniority. Despite repeated pleas by petitioners, the Union, acting according to plan, did nothing to protect them against these discriminatory discharges and refused to give them protection comparable to that given white employees. The complaint then went on to allege that the Union had failed in general to represent Negro employees  [**101]  equally and in good faith. It charged that such discrimination constituted a violation of petitioners' right under the Railway Labor Act to fair representation from their bargaining agent. And it concluded by asking for relief in the nature of declaratory judgment, injunction and damages.

The respondents appeared and moved to dismiss the complaint on several grounds: (1) the National Railroad [****6]  Adjustment Board had exclusive jurisdiction over the controversy; (2) the Texas and New Orleans Railroad, which had not been joined, was an indispensable party defendant; and (3) the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be given.  The District Court granted the motion to dismiss holding that Congress had given the Adjustment Board exclusive jurisdiction over  [*44]  the controversy. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, apparently relying on the same ground, affirmed. 229 F.2d 436. Since the case raised an important question concerning the protection of employee rights under the Railway Labor Act we granted certiorari. 352 U.S. 818.

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355 U.S. 41 *; 78 S. Ct. 99 **; 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 ***; 1957 U.S. LEXIS 1598 ****; 9 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 439; 33 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P71,077; 1 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P9656; 41 L.R.R.M. 2089



Disposition:  229 F.2d 436, reversed.


employees, bargaining, bargaining agent, the Railway Labor Act, grievances, bargaining unit, disputes, carrier

Labor & Employment Law, Collective Bargaining & Labor Relations, Duty of Fair Representation, Discrimination, General Overview, Labor Arbitration, Enforcement, Transportation Law, Rail Transportation, Safety Appliance Act, Couplers, Civil Procedure, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, Discipline, Layoffs & Terminations, Dismissal, Involuntary Dismissals, Failure to State Claims, Federal Preemption, Primacy of Labor Policy, Employment Relationships, Employment Contracts, Breaches, Pleadings, Complaints, Requirements for Complaint, Criminal Law & Procedure, Preliminary Proceedings, Pleading & Practice, Rule Application & Interpretation