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BLACK ET AL. v. CUTTER LABORATORIES

decided: June 4, 1956.

BLACK ET AL
v.
CUTTER LABORATORIES



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA.

Author: Clark

[ 351 U.S. Page 293]

 MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1949 Mrs. Doris Walker was discharged from her job at Cutter Laboratories, a manufacturer of pharmaceutical and biological products, on the claimed grounds that she was an active member of the Communist Party and had falsified her application for employment there.*fn1

[ 351 U.S. Page 294]

     Petitioner, Bio-Lab Union of Local 225, United Office & Professional Workers of America, sought reinstatement for Mrs. Walker before an Arbitration Board pursuant to a valid collective-bargaining agreement which authorized

[ 351 U.S. Page 295]

     discharge for "just cause" only. The Board determined that she had been discharged for union activity and, by a vote of 2 to 1, ordered her reinstatement. The Superior Court of San Francisco County confirmed the award and ordered it enforced. On appeal, the District Court of Appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court of California, however, reversed. 43 Cal. 2d 788, 278 P. 2d 905. Petitioners contend that the decision and opinion below violate constitutional principles embraced in the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. We granted certiorari, 350 U.S. 816.

[ 351 U.S. Page 296]

     Before Mrs. Walker applied for a job at the Cutter plant, she had graduated from law school, worked for three years as an attorney for the Office of Price Administration and in private practice, and had been discharged for union activity from jobs in three different canneries. All of these facts, she readily admitted to the Board, were concealed or misrepresented by her in the Cutter employment application in 1946. In addition, she admitted that she had falsely stated that she had been employed as a file clerk in 1939 by one John Trippe, attorney. She told the Board that no such person or employment had existed. The character references she listed had been warned by her of the omissions and falsifications in her application and at her request they did not disclose her true background to Cutter. These falsifications and omissions were not discovered until after she had been employed as a label clerk by the Cutter plant and the "probationary period" had expired.

The Arbitration Board found that Mrs. Walker had played an active role in union activities at the Cutter plant. In 1947 she became a shop chairman and a member of the executive board of the Local. The following year she was elected chief shop steward, and her activities were extended to all manufacturing departments of the Laboratory. She became president of the Local in the spring of 1949, and was holding that office at the time of her discharge. The Board also found that Mrs. Walker was a member of the Communist Party during the period of her employment. Cutter had investigated her in 1947 and 1949 and had discovered evidence of Communist Party membership and also that she had falsified her employment application. The Board's finding of Communist Party membership was based on evidence uncovered in the Cutter investigations plus Mrs. Walker's

[ 351 U.S. Page 297]

     refusal to answer questions relating to membership and the Union's offer to stipulate that the company could reasonably have concluded that she was a Communist.*fn2

The Board took the "view of the record" that Cutter honestly believed that Mrs. Walker had falsified her application and was a member of the Party. But it held that, "while an employer may have sufficient grounds for a discharge," he "should not be entitled to carry mutually known grounds for discharge in his hip pocket indefinitely for future convenient use." It found Cutter's grounds to be "stale" and concluded that Mrs. Walker was unjustly discharged and that this action of Cutter "interfered with, ...


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