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Independent Federation of Flight Attendants v. Zipes

(Redirected from 491 U.S. 754)
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United States Supreme Court

491 U.S. 754

Independent Federation of Flight Attendants  v.  Zipes

No. 88-608  Argued: April 25, 1989. --- Decided: June 22, 1989


After protracted litigation, respondents, a class of female flight attendants alleging that Trans World Airlines' policy of dismissing flight attendants who became mothers constituted sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, entered into a settlement agreement with TWA in which the airline agreed, inter alia, to credit class members with full company and union "competitive" seniority. At this point, petitioner, the collective-bargaining agent for TWA flight attendants, intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of incumbent flight attendants who would be adversely affected by the conferral of the seniority, challenging the settlement agreement on the grounds that (1) the court lacked jurisdiction to award equitable relief to one of the subclasses of respondents, and (2) the terms of the settlement would violate the existing collective-bargaining agreement. After this challenge was rejected, respondents petitioned the District Court for an award of attorney's fees against petitioner under § 706(k) of the Act. The court awarded fees against petitioner, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: District courts may award Title VII attorney's fees against those who are not charged with Title VII violations but intervene to protect their own rights only where the intervention is frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation. Assessing fees against blameless intervenors is not essential to § 706(k)'s central purpose of providing victims of wrongful discrimination an incentive to file suit. The prospect of uncompensated fees in litigation against such persons exists in any event, since they may choose to attack the decree collaterally instead of intervening-an undesirable result that the rule respondents urge would foster. While petitioner's advocacy of its members' bargained-for rights was not the specific type of conduct § 706(k) was intended to encourage, neither was it conduct that the statute aimed to deter. Pp. 758-766.

846 F.2d 434 (CA 7 1988), reve sed and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 766. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 770. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Steven A. Fehr, for petitioner.

Aram A. Hartunian, Chicago, Ill., for respondents.

Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).