The Supreme Court declined yesterday to hear claims that an important weapon in the fight against job dicrimination was improperly blunted by a federal appeals court last April in a suit against Western Electric's Arlington facility.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond narrowly interpreted the use of class action suits -- the most common approach to civil rights complaints -- by holding that black and female Western Electric employes could not sue on behalf of black and female applicants who had never been hired.
The appeals court thus voided a lower court judgment that Western Electric discriminated in hiring. At the same time, for different reasons, it voided a lower court's finding that there was discrimination in promotions within the Arlington plant.
The Supreme Court's action yesterday let stand the Court of Appeals ruling, which included a single finding of discrimination in job assignments.
The class action issue revolves around differing interpretations of Supreme Court holdings that a class representative must "possess the same interests and suffer the same injury" as those they seek to represent. Civil rights lawyers have traditionally interpreted the "class" broadly so as to attack discrimination equally broadly.
In the Arlington case, however, the 4th Circuit Court felt the interpretation was too broad.
Six employes brought the suit in 1975 against Western Electric. Although none of them had been rejected for their initial jobs, they incorporated in their class action complaint any who might have been rejected.
The appeals court ruled that the interest of those who did get jobs is "so different in kind from that of people who were denied employment" that the incorporation was in error.
The Supreme Court denied the review without comment, yesterday, thereby letting the Circuit Court's interpretation stand although setting no nationwide precedent.