478 U.S. 501 (1986), 84-1999, Local Number 93, International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO, C.L.C.

Docket Nº:No. 84-1999
Citation:478 U.S. 501, 106 S.Ct. 3063, 92 L.Ed.2d 405, 54 U.S.L.W. 5005
Party Name:Local Number 93, International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO, C.L.C.
Case Date:July 02, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 501

478 U.S. 501 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 3063, 92 L.Ed.2d 405, 54 U.S.L.W. 5005

Local Number 93, International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO, C.L.C.

No. 84-1999

United States Supreme Court

July 2, 1986

v . City of Cleveland

Argued February 25, 1986




The Vanguards, an organization of black and Hispanic firefighters employed by respondent city of Cleveland, filed a class action in Federal District Court charging the city and various city officials with discrimination on the basis of race and national origin in hiring, assigning, and promoting firefighters in violation of, inter alia, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of [106 S.Ct. 3065] 1964. Petitioner labor union, which represents a majority of the city's firefighters, was permitted to intervene as a party plaintiff. Over petitioner's objection, the court adopted a consent decree that provided for the use of race-conscious relief and other affirmative action in promoting firefighters. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held. Section 706(g) of Title VII does not preclude entry of a consent decree, such as was entered in this case, that may benefit individuals who were not the actual victims of the defendant's discriminatory practices; whether or not § 706(g) precludes a court from imposing certain forms of race-conscious relief after trial, it does not apply to relief awarded in a consent decree. Pp. 515-530.

(a) Congress intended that voluntary compliance be the preferred means of achieving Title VII's objectives. Voluntary action available to employers and unions seeking to eradicate race discrimination may include reasonable race-conscious relief that benefits individuals who are not actual victims of that discrimination. Steelworkers v. Weber, 443 U.S. 193. Absent some contrary indication, there is no reason why such voluntary action is rendered impermissible by Title VII simply because it is incorporated into a consent decree. No such contrary indication is provided by § 706(g)'s last sentence, which precludes a district court from entering an order requiring the hiring or promotion of an individual who was refused employment or promotion for any reason other than discrimination. Whatever the extent of the limits Congress placed in § 706(g)'s last sentence on the power of federal courts to impose obligations on employers or unions to remedy violations of Title VII, § 706(g) by itself does not restrict the ability of employers or unions to enter into voluntary agreements providing race-conscious relief. Because the voluntary nature of a consent decree is its most fundamental

Page 502

characteristic, it is apparent that consent decrees are not included among the "orders" referred to in § 706(g). The party's agreement, rather than the force of law upon which the complaint was originally based, creates the obligations embodied in a consent decree. Pp. 515-524.

(b) A federal court is not necessarily barred from entering a consent decree merely because the decree provides broader relief than the court could have awarded after a trial. Inasmuch as the limits placed by § 706(g) on the remedial authority of a federal court -- whatever these may be -- are not implicated by voluntary agreements, there is no conflict with or violation of § 706(g) when a federal court enters a consent decree that provides such relief. Firefighters v. Stotts, 467 U.S. 561, and Railway Employees v. Wright, 364 U.S. 642, distinguished. Pp. 524-528.

(c) The fact that the consent decree in this case was entered without petitioner's consent does not affect its validity. While an intervenor is entitled to present evidence and have its objections heard at the hearings on whether to approve a consent decree, it does not have power to block the decree merely by withholding its consent. The consent decree here does not bind petitioner to do or not do anything. It imposes no legal duties or obligations on petitioner, and does not purport to resolve any other claims petitioner might have under the Fourteenth Amendment, § 703 of Title VII, or as a matter of contract. Whether it is too late to raise such claims, or, if not, whether the claims have any merit, are questions that must be presented in the first instance to the District Court, which has retained jurisdiction to hear such challenges. Pp. 528-530.

753 F.2d 479, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 530. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 531. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C J., joined, post, p. 535.

Page 504

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented in this case is whether § 706(g) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 261, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g), precludes the entry of a consent decree which provides relief that may benefit individuals who were not the actual victims of the defendant's discriminatory practices.


On October 23, 1980, the Vanguards of Cleveland (Vanguards), an organization of black and Hispanic firefighters employed by the City of Cleveland, filed a complaint charging the City and various municipal officials (hereinafter referred to collectively as the City) with discrimination on the basis of race and national origin "in the hiring, assignment and promotion of firefighters within the City of Cleveland Fire Department." App. 6. The Vanguards sued on behalf of a class of blacks and Hispanics consisting of firefighters already employed by the City, applicants for employment, and "all blacks and Hispanics who in the future will apply for employment or will be employed as firemen by the Cleveland Fire Department." Id. at 8.

The Vanguards claimed that the City had violated the rights of the plaintiff class under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. Although the complaint alleged facts to establish discrimination in hiring and work assignments, the primary allegations charged that

Page 505

black and Hispanic firefighters "have . . . been discriminated against by reason of their race and national origin in the awarding of promotions within the Fire Department." App. 11.1 The complaint averred that this discrimination was effectuated by a number of intentional practices by the City. The written examination used for making promotions was alleged to be discriminatory. The effects of this test were said to be reinforced by the use of seniority points and by the manipulation of retirement dates so that minorities would not be near the top of promotion lists when positions became available. In addition, the City assertedly limited minority advancement by deliberately refusing to administer a new promotional examination after 1975, thus cancelling out the effects of increased minority hiring that had resulted from certain litigation commenced in 1973.

As just noted, the Vanguards' lawsuit was not the first in which the City had to defend itself against charges of race discrimination in hiring and promotion in its civil services. In 1972, an organization of black police officers filed an action alleging that the Police Department discriminated [106 S.Ct. 3067] against minorities in hiring and promotions. See Shield Club v. City of Cleveland, 370 F.Supp. 251 (ND Ohio 1972). The District Court found for the plaintiffs, and issued an order enjoining certain hiring and promotion practices and establishing minority

Page 506

hiring goals. In 1977, these hiring goals were adjusted and promotion goals were established pursuant to a consent decree. Thereafter, litigation raising similar claims was commenced against the Fire Department and resulted in a judicial finding of unlawful discrimination and the entry of a consent decree imposing hiring quotas similar to those ordered in the Shield Club litigation. See Headen v. City of Cleveland, No. C73-330 (ND Ohio, Apr. 25, 1975). In 1977, after additional litigation, the Headen court approved a new plan governing hiring procedures in the Fire Department.

By the time the Vanguards filed their complaint, then, the City had already unsuccessfully contested many of the basic factual issues in other lawsuits. Naturally, this influenced the City's view of the Vanguards' case. As expressed by counsel for the City at oral argument in this Court:

[W]hen this case was filed in 1980, the City of Cleveland had eight years at that point of litigating these types of cases, and eight years of having judges rule against the City of Cleveland.

You don't have to beat us on the head. We finally learned what we had to do and what we had to try to do to comply with the law, and it was the intent of the city to comply with the law fully. . . .

Tr. of Oral Arg. 41-42. Thus, rather than commence another round of futile litigation, the City entered into "serious settlement negotiations" with the Vanguards. See Letter dated December 24, 1980, from Edward R. Stege, Jr., and Mark I. Wallach to Hon. Thomas J. Lambros.

On April 27, 1981, Local Number 93 of the International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO, C.L.C. (Local 93 or Union), which represents a majority of Cleveland's firefighters, moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2) to intervene as a party-plaintiff. The District Court granted the motion and ordered the Union to submit its complaint in intervention within 30 days.

Page 507

Local 93 subsequently submitted a three-page document entitled "Complaint of Applicant for...

To continue reading