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DURING 1950 and 1951, the Ford Motor Company systematically laid off women employees in its Dearborn stamping plant while retaining men of lesser seniority. The women filed grievances, but the union refused to process the grievances because the local president and the Company had agreed to give men preference to jobs held by women regardless of seniority. The explanation given was that many of the jobs were too heavy for women, although the women claimed there were jobs available within their physical capacity and ability. The women appealed to the International Union which ruled that the layoffs were in violation of the seniority provisions of the contract, but still the grievances were not processed.
The women then sued both the union and the company for breach of contract, claiming to be third party beneficiaries under the collective agreements. The Michigan Supreme Court, in Cortez v. Ford Motor Co., held that they were third party beneficiaries, but dismissed the action. The only promise of the union which the courts could find was to "present grievances... for negotiation and disposition," and this the union had done. There was no promise by the union to enforce the contract. The only promise of the employer was to layoff according to seniority and ability, and this promise was conditioned on all disputes being determined through the grievance procedure. The women's rights were subject to this condition and their claims had been disposed of by the grievance procedure.
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