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Court Asked To Delete Layoff Clause

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A group of white schoolteachers from South Bend, Ind., asked a federal appeals court last month to invalidate a clause in their collective-bargaining agreement that protects black teachers with less seniority from layoffs.

In papers filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the teachers claimed that the layoff clause in their contract violated their equal-protection and due-process rights under the 14th Amendment and their right to protection from racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Sections 1981 and 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871.

According to lawyers familiar with the case, Britton v. South Bend Community School Corporation, the 46 plaintiffs contend that a federal district judge's Sept. 25 decision upholding their June 1982 layoffs was inconsistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial ruling last June in a case involving layoffs of white firefighters in Memphis.

Seniority Rights

In Firefighters Local Union No. 1784 v. Stotts, the Justices held that an affirmative-action hiring plan outlined in a consent decree could not be interpreted in such a way as to protect the jobs of less senior3blacks in the event of unanticipated layoffs. The seniority rights of white Memphis firefighters, they said, could not be set aside, because the black firefighters were not proven victims of discrimination. (See Education Week, Aug. 22, 1984.)

The white South Bend teachers unsuccessfully argued before U.S. District Judge Allan Sharpe that the Stotts decision permits affirmative-action plans to abrogate bona fide seniority systems only when such action serves a compelling state interest and the beneficiaries of such action are actual victims of discrimination, said Franklin A. Morse 2nd, the lawyer representing the Indiana school corporation in the case.

In his ruling, however, Judge Sharpe pointed out that unlike the Stotts case, which involved the affirmative-action provisions of a court-approved consent decree, the Britton case involved a no-layoff clause in contracts approved overwhelmingly on two occasions by the union's rank and file, Mr. Morse said.

In addition, he said, the judge held that the clause was constitutionally valid because it was substantially related to the objective of remedying demonstrable past racial imbalances in the South Bend teaching force.--tm

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