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Emporium Capwell Co. v. Western Addition Community Organization

United States Supreme Court
420 U.S. 50 (1975)


All employees at the Emporium Capwell Company (defendant) department store belonged to a union. The collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) between the union and Emporium prohibited strikes or lockouts and required complaints to follow a grievance and arbitration process. In response to repeated employee complaints about racial discrimination, the union prepared a report, conducted a meeting, and said it would process complaints to arbitration if necessary. But when the union and company convened the joint union-management adjustment board meeting the CBA required, four vocal Black employees objected and refused to participate. After trying unsuccessfully to negotiate directly with the president, protesting employees held a press conference, called company policy racist, and picketed and passed out handbills urging customers to boycott. A union representative and the company warned the employees to stop or face termination, then fired two employees who continued. Those two belonged to civil-rights organization Western Addition Community Organization (plaintiff), which challenged their termination under the National Labor Relations Act. The National Labor Relations Board found the act did not protect the employees’ conduct, making their termination lawful. The board reasoned that allowing individual negotiations would undermine exclusive collective bargaining, impede union efforts, and burden employers unreasonably. The appellate court reversed, reasoning federal law and national policy uniquely protect concerted action against racial discrimination. The Supreme Court granted review.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Marshall, J.)

Dissent (Douglas, J.)

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