679 F.2d 541 (6th Cir. 1982), 81-5348, Stotts v. Memphis Fire Dept.

Docket Nº:81-5348, 81-5349.
Citation:679 F.2d 541
Party Name:Carl W. STOTTS, Individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees, and Fred L. Jones, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. MEMPHIS FIRE DEPARTMENT; Robert W. Walker, City of Memphis, and JosephSabatini, Defendants-Appellants, and Firefighters Local Union 1784, Defendant-Intervenor-Appellant.
Case Date:May 07, 1982
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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679 F.2d 541 (6th Cir. 1982)

Carl W. STOTTS, Individually and on behalf of all others

similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees,


Fred L. Jones, Plaintiff-Appellee,


MEMPHIS FIRE DEPARTMENT; Robert W. Walker, City of Memphis,

and JosephSabatini, Defendants-Appellants,


Firefighters Local Union 1784, Defendant-Intervenor-Appellant.

Nos. 81-5348, 81-5349.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

May 7, 1982

Argued Sept. 15, 1981.

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Clifford D. Pierce, Jr., City Atty., Louis P. Britt III, McKnight, Hudson, Lewis & Henderson, Allen S. Blair, James R. Newsom III, Hanover, Waldh, Jalenak & Blair, Memphis, Tenn., for defendants-appellants.

Richard B. Fields, Ratner & Sugarmon, Memphis, Tenn., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Before KEITH and MARTIN, Circuit Judges, and DUNCAN, [*] District Judge.

KEITH, Circuit Judge.

This case presents questions regarding the entry and modification of a consent decree in an employment discrimination case. In 1977, Plaintiff-appellee Carl Stotts filed a class action against the City of Memphis, alleging that the Fire Department's hiring and promotion policies were racially discriminatory. After three years of discovery and intensive negotiations, the Stotts suit was settled by a consent decree in 1980 ("1980 Decree"). No trial was held. The 1980 Decree was intended to supplement an earlier consent decree entered in 1974 which affected employment practices in all divisions of the Memphis city government. The 1980 Decree provides for back-pay awards and an affirmative action plan containing specific hiring and promotion goals. The decree does not specifically address the effect layoffs would have on these affirmative action goals.

In 1981, the City of Memphis announced that city-wide layoffs were necessary to alleviate an unanticipated economic crisis. The proposed layoffs in the Fire Department threatened to frustrate the purpose of the decrees and the progress accomplished under them. Minority employment in the Fire Department would have been devastated by the proposed layoffs. Plaintiff Stotts filed a motion to restrain the City of Memphis from implementing the layoff proposal in a manner which affected minority firemen. The district court found that the proposed layoffs were an unanticipated change in circumstance not contemplated by the consent decrees. Accordingly, the court modified the decrees and enjoined the proposed layoffs and demotions of minority firemen. We affirm.


In 1974, the United States Department of Justice ("Government") instituted an action against the City of Memphis ("City") under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1981, 1 the Fourteenth Amendment,

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and the State and Local Fiscal Assistance Act of 1972, 31 U.S.C. § 1221 et seq. The complaint alleged that the Fire Department and various other City divisions had engaged in a pattern or practice of race and sex discrimination in hiring and promotions. The City initially denied the allegations. Later in 1974, however, it agreed to settle the litigation with a consent decree ("1974 Decree"). 2

The motivation for the 1974 Decree was the desire to remedy past discrimination and avoid the delay and expense of further litigation. In the decree, the City did not admit to any misconduct. The City did acknowledge, however, that its employment practices may create an inference of racial and sexual discrimination.

The purpose of the 1974 Decree is to remedy any disadvantage to blacks and women which may have resulted from past discrimination. Subject only to the availability of qualified applicants, the City agreed to undertake the "goal of achieving throughout the work force proportions of minority and female employees in each job classification approximating their respective proportions in the civilian labor force." The decree established interim hiring goals for each of the City's divisions. The interim goal affecting the Fire Department required that minority employment in the uniformed positions increase by 5% before July of 1976. The decree also required the City to "engage in affirmative recruitment activities consistent with their obligation to take all reasonable steps to reach the goals set forth" in the decree. Specific numerical hiring ratios would be established if the City failed in its good faith attempt to meet the interim hiring goal.

The 1974 Decree did not establish specific minority employment goals for the ranks above firefighter. However, the decree acknowledged the need to increase substantially the number of minorities in supervisory positions. In fact, the decree committed the City to "making significant progress in increasing the number of black and female supervisory personnel." Numerical promotional goals could be imposed if the City's performance during the preceding fiscal year did not satisfy its obligations under the decree.

On February 16, 1977, Carl Stotts, plaintiff-appellee, filed a class action suit against the Memphis Fire Department. His complaint alleged that the Fire Department's hiring and promotion policies violated Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 3

The Pioneers, a group of approximately 70 minority Memphis firemen, filed a motion to intervene in the Stotts case. The trial court denied the Pioneers' motion to intervene, but certified the case as a class action. During the following months, the Stotts case received extensive attention in the local media. The press coverage included several articles describing the Stotts case and its effect on the Fire Department.

On June 19, 1979, Fred Jones, plaintiff-appellee, filed an action against the City, alleging that the Fire Department had denied him a promotion solely because of his race. The Jones and Stotts cases were consolidated in September. On September 27, District Judge McRae set a trial date for the Stotts case but, nonetheless, encouraged the parties to settle the action.

In December, Plaintiffs-appellees Stotts and Jones ("Plaintiffs") filed a motion for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") to enjoin the City from making promotions within

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the Fire Prevention Bureau. The Plaintiffs stated they would be irreparably harmed if the scheduled promotions occurred. As proposed, the promotions would fill certain positions and prevent minorities from acquiring the experience necessary to qualify them for supervisory positions. The City opposed the motion, arguing that the promotions were necessary for the efficient operation of the Fire Department. The creation of acting or temporary positions would create instability within the department. The City stated emphatically, "We do need to make the promotions." The trial court granted the TRO after finding that, "there would be irreparable harm if promotions were granted that were not consistent with the rights of the plaintiffs."

On January 17, 1980, the City appeared before Judge McRae and stated that settlement negotiations were continuing. On February 20, 1980, both the City and Plaintiffs appeared before the court and stated that the settlement was complete "except for about five different things." Five days later, the parties again appeared before the court and stated that negotiations concerning the settlement were continuing despite some difficulties concerning the affirmative relief and monitoring sections of the proposed settlement.

Finally, on April 25, 1980, the parties announced that they had reached a settlement. The settlement consisted of an affirmative action plan embodied in the 1980 Decree. The 1980 Decree contained hiring and promotion goals. The decree was the final resolution of the consolidated Stotts case and applied to all class members. The parties informed the court that they only sought preliminary approval of the decree and the court's consent to post the decree for 15 days in the Memphis Fire Stations for comment. Counsel also stated that he thought the Firefighters Local Union 1784 ("Firefighters Union") might object to the decree.

The purpose of the 1980 Decree was to remedy the past hiring and promotions practices of the Memphis Fire Department relative to minorities. The 1980 Decree was intended to parallel and supplement the relief provided in the 1974 Decree. The decree reaffirmed the City's commitment to achieve the long-term goal of increasing minority representation in each job classification to levels approximating the level of minority representation in the Shelby County labor force. The 1980 Decree also established specific hiring and promotion goals. The hiring goal stated that qualified minorities should fill at least 50% of all vacancies. The promotional goal indicated that qualified minorities should receive 20% of the vacancies. The promotional goal was adopted to "insure as quickly as practicable the attainment of (the) long range goal." Back pay in the amount of $60,000 was also awarded to class members in varying amounts according to their length of service. In addition, the decree required the trial court to retain jurisdiction to make "such further orders as may be necessary or appropriate to effectuate the purposes of this decree."

Neither the Firefighters Union nor any class member filed an objection to the decree during the 15 day period. On May 12, 1980, however, a group of eleven non-minority firemen objected to the entry of the 1980 Decree and filed a motion to intervene. These proposed intervenors filed on behalf of themselves and allegedly all other non-minority firemen. The non-minority firemen were not, however, representatives of the Firefighters Union, the union representative of Memphis firemen.

The non-minorities asserted that the promotional goals...

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