Reynolds v. Roberts

Decision Date29 March 2000
Docket NumberNos. 97-6347,98-6192,s. 97-6347
Citation207 F.3d 1288
Parties(11th Cir. 2000) Johnny REYNOLDS, individually on behalf of himself and as representative of a class of black employees of the Highway Department, State of Alabama, similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellee, Cecil Parker, Robert Johnson, et al., Intervenors-Plaintiffs-Appellees, C. Campbell Wilson, Intervenor-Plaintiff, William Adams, Cheryl Caine, et al., Intervenors-Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. G.M. ROBERTS, in his official capacity as Director for the Alabama Department of Transportation, et al., Defendants. Johnny Reynolds, individually and on behalf of himself and as representative of a class of black employees of the Highway Department, State of Alabama, similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellee, Cecil Parker; Robert Johnson, et al., Intervenors-Plaintiffs-Appellees, William Adams, Cheryl Caine, et al., Intervenors-Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. G.M. Roberts, in his official capacity as Director for the Alabama Department of Transportation, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

[Copyrighted Material Omitted] Appeals from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

Before TJOFLAT and DUBINA, Circuit Judges, and STORY*, District Judge.

TJOFLAT, Circuit Judge:

These consolidated appeals arise out of a long-standing racial discrimination class action brought by African-American employees and job applicants against the Alabama Department of Transportation (the "Department"). Three years after the district court entered a race-neutral consent decree providing for prospective relief relating to job qualifications and promotion criteria, plaintiffs' counsel, using the class action as their vehicle, applied to the district court for preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting white employees of the Department from availing themselves of a race-neutral grievance procedure the parties had fashioned and the court had approved. The court granted counsel's application for a preliminary injunction, but, recognizing that the issuance of an order to show cause rather than an injunction is the appropriate device for enforcing a consent decree, denied counsel's application for a permanent injunction. In the same stroke, the court, intent on granting counsel the relief they sought, transformed their application for a permanent injunction into an application for a declaratory judgment, declaring that allowing non-black employees to use the race-neutral grievance procedure violates the consent decree. Reynolds v. Alabama Dep't of Transp., 996 F.Supp. 1130 (M.D.Ala.1998). In No. 97-6347, a class of intervenors, who consist of the Department's non-black employees (the "Adams Intervenors"), appeals the preliminary injunction. In No. 98-6192, the same class appeals the declaratory judgment. We vacate both orders and instruct the district court to restore the status quo ante.

I.
A.

The procedural history of this case is set out in our opinion in Reynolds v. Roberts, 202 F.3d 1303, 1305-11 (11th Cir.2000) (Reynolds I ). Here, we recite a shortened version of that history and then focus on the events relevant to this appeal.

The named plaintiffs brought this suit against the Department1 in May 1985 on behalf of all black employees and former employees of the Department and all unsuccessful black applicants for positions within the Department. Alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2000e-17, 42 U.S.C. 1981, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, plaintiffs sought monetary and injunctive relief under those statutes and under 42 U.S.C. 1983. In October 1986, the court certified three plaintiff classes.2

After the parties joined issue, and engaged in discovery, they entered into settlement negotiations. In 1988, and again in 1991, they presented a proposed consent decree to the district court for approval. On each occasion, some members of the plaintiff classes objected to the entry of the decree; the district court sustained their objections and refused to enter the decree.

In June 1992, the case proceeded to trial before the court. Near the end of the plaintiffs' case, the parties asked the court to recess the proceeding indefinitely so they could engage in further settlement negotiations. The court granted their request. In November 1993, the parties reached a partial settlement, in the form of a proposed consent decree. The proposed decree provided a range of prospective class-wide injunctive relief. Among other things, it set hiring and promotion quotas for blacks-33% of the positions in each job classification in the Department would be set aside for blacks. To ensure an adequate pool for this set-aside program, the decree directed the Department to mount an aggressive recruiting campaign at historically black colleges and universities. Finally, the decree required the Department to establish a grievance procedure for its employees.

The parties presented the proposed decree to the district court, which, in turn, scheduled a hearing for January 19, 1994, to entertain any objections members of the plaintiff classes, or others likely to be affected (like white employees of the Department), might have to the terms of the proposed decree. On January 13, a group of white Department employees (the "Adams Intervenors") moved the court for leave to intervene on behalf of the Department's non-black employees in order to challenge the race-conscious provisions of the proposed decree-specifically, the 33% quota requirement for all job classifications in the Department. The court granted the motion, Reynolds v. Roberts, 846 F.Supp. 948, 953-54 (M.D.Ala.1994), and subsequently certified an additional class, consisting of the Department's non-black employees.

The January 19 hearing was held as scheduled. Over 200 people attended the hearing, including many non-black employees of the Department. The objections to the race-conscious aspects of the proposed consent decree were such that the parties withdrew it and, with leave of court, went back to the drawing board. By late February 1994, the plaintiffs and the Department decided to divide the previously proposed decree into three parts, called Consent Decrees I, II, and III. Consent Decree I contained the provisions that all sides agreed provided only race-neutral prospective relief. Consent Decrees II and III contained provisions that were acceptable to the plaintiffs and the Department, but opposed as race-conscious by the Adams Intervenors.

The parties submitted Consent Decree I to the district court for approval, and, on March 7, the court held a hearing on the fairness of the proposal. No one other than the parties' attorneys appeared at the hearing, and no one objected to the entry of the decree. The court approved the decree and, by order entered March 16, 1994, adopted it in full.

B.

Consent Decree I is composed of a series of "Articles" which revamped the process by which the Department hires, promotes, classifies, and pays its employees. The decree abolished the system of "employment registers" from which positions were filled and promotions were granted, and created new qualifications and procedures for hiring and promotion. It also created new procedures for, among other things, rotation of job duties, recruitment, and training. None of the Articles of Consent Decree I provide special benefits or procedures for black employees of the Department.

The only Articles relevant to this appeal are Article 15 and one provision of Article 19. Article 15 required the Department to conduct a study of all its employees (regardless of race) to determine if any employees were being assigned duties associated with a higher job classification (and thus higher pay level) than the one they currently had. If the study uncovered an employee "spending a majority of [his or her] working time in the performance of the duties and responsibilities of a higher job classification," the Department was required to reclassify the employee at the higher level (and therefore increase that employee's salary). Article 15 also required the Department "to monitor the duties and responsibilities performed by employees with the goal of assuring to the extent practicable that at least 90% of the duties and responsibilities performed by employees on a regular or non-emergency basis are within the job description for [the] job they are holding."

To ensure that the Department was fulfilling Article 15's obligations (as well as other obligations) under Consent Decree I, Article 19 mandated the creation of a grievance 3 procedure that individual employees could use:

Within 180 days of the effective date of this Decree, the Highway Department will develop and implement an enhanced complaint procedure which assures that all discrimination complaints are processed without fear and reprisal within established time limits and that appropriate action is taken following [the resolution of a complaint]. Such procedure will be submitted to plaintiffs' counsel for review and comment at least 30 days prior to its implementation.

The Department complied with this mandate and submitted a proposed complaint procedure, designated the "Revised Complaint Procedure," to plaintiffs' counsel for review. Plaintiffs' counsel approved the procedure. Although Article 19 did not require it to do so, the Department submitted the procedure to the district court. On August 9, 1995, the court incorporated the procedure in an "Order and Injunction."4

The grievance procedure is race-neutral. It opens by stating that "[t]he Consent Decree and Departmental policy mandate that all employees enjoy a work-place free from discrimination." The procedure allows a grievance to be filed for any "alleged wrong based upon the employee's race, color, creed, sex, national origin, age, or handicap."...

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