LIUNA Loses $1.8 Million Discrimination Suit

The U.S. Supreme Court Feb. 22 let stand a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the Laborers’ Int’l Union of N. Am. is liable for LIUNA Local 496’s racially discriminatory membership and job referral practices. LIUNA sought review of the appeals court’s Apr. 1999 finding that Local 496 acted as LIUNA’s agent and that LIUNA instigated a membership rule having a disparate impact on blacks and breached its affirmative duty to investigate the local’s discriminatory conduct when it learned about charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. See LIUNA v. Alexander, 77 F.3d 394 (6th Cir. 1999).

The appeals court held both LIUNA and Local 496 liable for violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Under a settlement agreement on damages, a class of 52 black workers who were denied union membership or job referrals by Local 496 will be entitled to $1.8 million in damages, $300,000 of which was already paid. The settlement gives class members preference in job referrals.

In 1973, Local 496 signed an agreement with the Cleveland Elec. Illuminating Co. under which the local acted as the exclusive hiring hall for laborers for building a nuclear power plant in Lake County, Ohio. Local 496’s constitution, dictated by LIUNA, requires that those seeking union membership first be employed at a union shop in Lake County. The appeals court found that the local regularly waived the rule for white applicants but not blacks.

Construction ended in 1985 and the employer entered into a national maintenance agreement with LIUNA that called for Local 496 to act as the international’s agent in filling laborer vacancies at the plant. The Nat’l Labor Relations Act prohibited Local 496 from discriminating between members and nonmembers in job referrals, but the appeals court found the local never referred nonmembers.

Black applicants initiated a class action in 1984. The district court found LIUNA and the local liable in 1991. [BNA 2/23/00]