Gainer v. School Board of Jefferson County, Ala.

Decision Date04 November 1955
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 5339.
Citation135 F. Supp. 559
PartiesRuby Jackson GAINER, Member of Class Represented by William J. Bolden, Plaintiff, v. SCHOOL BOARD OF JEFFERSON COUNTY, ALABAMA, and J. E. Bryan, Superintendent of Schools of Jefferson County, Alabama, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama

Crampton Harris, George S. Brown, and Arthur D. Shores, Birmingham, Ala., for plaintiff.

Deramus, Fitts, Johnston & Mullins and Harvey Elrod, Birmingham, Ala., for defendants.

LYNNE, Chief Judge.

A final decree of this Court, entered by and with the consent of the parties and enrolled herein on April 27, 1945, terminated the class action of Negro teachers in the schools of Jefferson County, Alabama, which had been instituted on March 27, 1942, by the filing of the complaint1 of William J. Bolden, as the only named plaintiff against School Board of Jefferson County, Alabama, and J. E. Bryan, Superintendent of Schools of Jefferson County, Alabama (sic), as defendants.

In its decretal order, this Court, having adverted to Alston v. School Board of City of Norfolk, 4 Cir., 1940, 112 F.2d 992, 130 A.L.R. 1506, declared: "That any official policy of the defendants in paying plaintiff and all other Negro teachers and principals in the public school system of Jefferson County, Alabama, smaller salaries than are paid by said defendants to white teachers and principals, in so far as (sic) such differentials are predicated solely on race or color, is unlawful and unconstitutional, and is in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and of Sections 41 and 43 of Title 8 of the United States Code." (Now codified as 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1981 and 1983.)

Thereupon it was adjudicated: "(1) That the defendants, School Board of Jefferson County, Alabama, and the agents of said defendants and each of them be and are hereby perpetually enjoined and restrained from discriminating in the payment of salaries, against the plaintiff and any other Negro teachers and principals in the public school system of Jefferson County, Alabama, on account of race or color. (2) The operative effect of this Decree is postponed until the school term beginning September, 1945."

Thereafter, on July 27, 1945, the Board adopted a scale of minimum salaries for teachers.2 Experience under the new schedule was not satisfactory to some of the Negro teachers affected and the instant ancillary proceeding evolved.

On February 17, 1947, Ruby Jackson Gainer, a member of the class represented by Bolden, filed a petition for rule to show cause why the respondents Board, its constituent members and J. E. Bryan, as Superintendent, should not be punished for contempt.

Petitioner alleged, inter alia, that respondents had "knowingly and wilfully disobeyed," and were still disobeying, the order of April 29, 1945, in that the respondents continued to pay Negro teachers less than was paid to white teachers "having similar qualifications and experience and performing similar duties, solely on account of race or color * * *." The new salary schedule was attacked in particular paragraphs in the petition. The original prayer was only for a rule to show cause why respondents should not be subjected to an attachment in contempt of court.

By amendment, however, petitioner prayed for a decree holding respondents in contempt of court, imposing a fine "upon the defendants payable to the petitioners separately and severally in an amount sufficient to compensate the petitioners for the differences between what they have been paid since the beginning of the school year 1945 and what they would have been paid since that time had not the unlawful and unconstitutional discrimination * * * on the part of the defendants been perpetrated," and awarding "petitioners a reasonable attorney's fee and their necessary expenses and costs incurred in this contempt proceeding." There was also a prayer for general relief.

There was an effort to add, by amendment, some 379 parties-plaintiff. Following a motion by respondents to strike certain named parties plaintiff, and all parties who had been listed on petitioners' prior amendment without their consent, petitioners further amended by striking the names of some 175 Negro teachers as parties-plaintiff and by adding the names of 3 Negro teachers.

When issue was joined in behalf of respondents, an informal conference was held in chambers, in the course of which there was complete harmony of opinion among court and counsel of record that a special master should be appointed in the pending proceeding, as authorized by Rule 53, Fed.Rules Civ.Proc. 28 U.S.C.A., and that the master should be directed to report his findings of fact and conclusions of law within the periphery of the issues suggested by the pleadings.

Counsel were requested to attempt to agree upon an attorney, generally esteemed by members of the bench and bar for both pre-eminent professional ability and impeccable integrity, who might serve in such capacity. Their joint announcement of agreement upon Honorable Reid B. Barnes, of Birmingham, was most gratifying to the Court, and his appointment as special master ensued.

The order of reference, dated April 25, 1947, contains 15 numbered paragraphs, constituting explicit directions to the master. With the exception of paragraph 3, to which petitioners excepted, they represent the concurrent views of court and counsel upon the scope and the terms of such order.

On September 16, 1953, the master filed his report, consisting of 208 typewritten pages. Contemporaneously therewith, both petitioners and respondents filed and served their respective written objections thereto. Unlimited time was afforded for oral arguments after counsel had favored the Court with exhaustive and excellent briefs.

For convenient reference, there is reproduced in a footnote3 the numbered paragraphs of the order of reference and under each paragraph the Court's summary of the master's response thereto. In the interest of brevity, conclusions have been distilled from the master's elaborate, but precise, findings of fact.

Striving to confine the compass of this opinion, to avoid a fruitless exercise in dialetics, in short, to decide only that which is necessary, the Court accepts the assurance of petitioners' counsel that what, and all that, is sought by way of relief here is reparation. At the hearings before the master, reiterated in briefs and in oral arguments before the Court, counsel disclaimed any relief by way of assessment of a fine against or imprisonment of the individual members of the Board or the Superintendent. They insist upon the sanction of a fine, as for civil contempt to compensate petitioners for losses and damages sustained by them resulting from noncompliance with this court's decree, to be assessed only against respondent Board, a juridical entity.4

Thus relegated to irrelevancy are questions pertaining to the full sweep and scope of the court's power to vindicate its authority through enforcement of its decree. It is quite apparent that a denial of the narrow relief sought by petitioners in this proceeding would not be tantamount to an acknowledgment of impotency in a different situation.

Abhorring a vacuum, courts will declare legal principles only as they arise out of facts. If there had been no discrimination, forbidden by law, practiced by the Board against the petitioning parties herein, the matter would be at an end and there would be no warrant for indulging in an academic discussion of whether the remedy sought is in any event available.

Turning to the master's report, the Court discerns basic findings of fact which, if adopted, require definitive application of established propositions of law. For the master found that, during the two school years involved, differentials existed in salaries paid to the class of white and Negro teachers holding bachelor degrees from "approved institutions",5 and were predicated upon conditions which pertained to "bachelor approved" Negro teachers as a class and did not pertain to white teachers of the same class. The master recognized, as does the Court, that such practice constituted discrimination of an arbitrary nature, forbidden by the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that ordinarily "The absence of wilfulness does not relieve from civil contempt."6 He expressed no opinion as to whether it was inconsistent with and violative of the injunctive order concerned, which restrained a discrimination based solely on race or color. The Court holds that it was.

At first blush it would seem that, in view of the ultimate conclusion reached by both master and Court, other findings of fact relating to differentials in salary and the reasons therefor might be ignored in this opinion as only the one springboard is required to launch it. However, vigorous assaults from both quarters upon fact findings conceived to be adverse to the contending parties, respectively, deserve some attention.

Marshaling an imposing array of statistics and deriving therefrom a multitude of percentages by way of comparison and contrast, able counsel for petitioners seek to demonstrate that the adoption of the salary schedule itself was conceived in iniquity and born in infamy. They labor mightily the insistence that it, and its application during the significant period, constituted a scheme or device confected by respondents to thwart the solemn decree of this Court. But they may be reminded that neither the order of court nor the law of the land upon which it was rested "turn matters that are inherently incommensurable into mere matters of arithmetic."7

For their part, able counsel for respondents, with equal vigor, assail the master's findings and conclusions with respect to the class of "bachelor approved" teachers, urging that the master drew unauthorized inferences from a fortuitous concourse of statistics relating to years of teaching experience and...

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2 cases
  • Board of Trustees of Arkansas A & M College v. Davis
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • November 25, 1968
    ...School Board, 284 F.2d 340 (4th Cir. 1960); O'Neill v. Early, 208 F.2d 286, 288 (4th Cir. 1953); Gainer v. School Board of Jefferson County, Alabama, 135 F.Supp. 559, 569-570 (N.D.Ala.1955). 5 Title 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) provides that the District Court shall have original jurisdiction of any......
  • Londerholm v. Unified School Dist. No. 500
    • United States
    • Kansas Supreme Court
    • July 6, 1967
    ...and if he does not do so a violation of the act should be held to have been established. (Citing, Gainer v. School Board of Jefferson County, Ala., 135 F.Supp. 559 (N.D.Ala.1955), where there was actual discrimination against negro teachers in the payment of The Attorney General and the NAA......

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