Firefighters v. City of Cleveland

PETITIONER: Firefighters
RESPONDENT: City of Cleveland
LOCATION: City of Cleveland Fire Department

DOCKET NO.: 84-1999
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 478 US 501 (1986)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1986
DECIDED: Jul 02, 1986

John D. Maddox - on behalf of respondent City of Cleveland, et al
William Bradford Reynolds - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae in support of the petitioner
William L. Summers - on behalf of the petitioner

Facts of the case

Section 706(g)of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits a court from ordering the promotion of an individual who was denied advancement for any reason other than racial discrimination. In 1980, the Vanguards of Cleveland, an organization of black and Hispanic firefighters employed by the City of Cleveland, filed a lawsuit alleging that the City’s system for hiring and promoting firefighters discriminated against racial minorities, which violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Shortly after the City entered into settlement negotiations with the Vanguards, Local Number 93 of the International Association of Firefighters (a union representing a majority of Cleveland firefighters) moved to intervene as a party-plaintiff according to a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure that allows a nonparty to join an ongoing lawsuit in order to protect its rights from being affected by the litigation. The union argued that it had an interest in the suit because of its concern that promotions based upon a “racial quota system” (rather than competence exams or seniority rights) would detract from the quality of the Cleveland firefighting force. The Court approved the motion and ordered the Vanguards and the City to engage the union in settlement negotiations.

During the negotiations, the union membership overwhelmingly rejected a consent decree between the parties that increased the total number of supervisory positions within the Fire Department without specifying to whom those positions would be given. The Vanguards and the City moved for the approval of an amended consent decree that adopted the agreed-upon promotional system but was not subject to the union members’ approval. The district court approved the consent decree over the union’s objections. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. Local Number 93 petitioned the Court for a writ of certiorari based on its argument that the consent decree was an impermissible remedy under Section 706(g) of Title VII. According to the union, the court was precluded from approving the new promotional system because it may benefit individuals who were not actual victims of racial discrimination.



Does Section 706(g) of Title VII preclude a court from approving a consent decree that provides relief that may benefit individuals who were not the actual victims of the defendant’s discriminatory practices?

Media for Firefighters v. City of Cleveland

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1986 in Firefighters v. City of Cleveland

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Local Number 93 International Association of Firefighters, against City of Cleveland.

Mr. Summers, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

William L. Summers:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, petitioner here questions whether or not the District Court below is empowered by the Congress of these United States to award quota relief and promotions to a class of persons none of whom had ever been shown to be specific victims of any past promotional discriminatory practices of the City of Cleveland.

Reviewing the decisions of this Court together with the clear and absolute legislative intent of Congress, it seems to us, as we have steadfastly maintained, this court ordered remedy below was not lawful.

This is purely a question of statutory construction.

There was in fact a consent decree in this matter.

That consent decree was negotiated from the very beginning between the city of Cleveland and the Vanguards.

The matter was filed in District Court in the fall of 1980, and intervention was not sought as a matter of right by the intervenors, the local which I represent here today, until the spring of 1981, and it was in fact granted together with the filing of our responsive pleading.

Negotiations continued between the city of Cleveland and the Vanguards to the exclusion of Local 93 until roughly November of 1981.

In November of 1981, a proposed consent decree in draft form was presented to me as counsel for the intervenors, and a quick meeting thereafter was held in the chambers of the United States District Court.

Initially it was said to have

"approved the fairness of the proposed consent decree. "

At that time, the United States District Court said, wait a minute.

I have allowed this union in.

I want this union to participate, and I want them to have full participation.

We did in fact have full participation in the negotiation process to our knowledge from that point on.

In the fall of 1982, due to the illness of our trial judge, the magistrate took over the negotiating process and, yes, long and arduous, as both briefs have stated, discussions, negotiating sessions were had towards the possibility of a consent decree.

I might add to you, however, that from the very beginning the position of this local union was the imposition of quota remedy relief against any of its members was in fact an unlawful exercise of Title 7.

While it was not articulated as such, they said that they felt that the quota relief in any form in preference, racial preference of any individual over another was not lawful, and that that... certainly the lawfulness of that would be derived from 706(g).

This court order became a consent decree in the absence of the signature of this local.

The membership of that local, almost 90 percent of it, rejected this consent decree because of the very quota relief which was contained therein.

It was entered over their objections, and I add to you that in seeking the imprimatur of the District Court by way of an attempt to utilize the District Court, its attendant jurisdictional powers, its contempt powers, and everything else, the City of Cleveland, certainly with a keen interest in not having any back pay awards, chose to settle the alleged discriminatory wrongs in the past on the backs of the innocent non-minority firefighters.

We felt that was wrong.

We feel that is wrong as we stand before you today.

Warren E. Burger:

And who consented?

William L. Summers:

The consent, Mr. Chief Justice, was entered by the City of Cleveland and the minority firefighters, being the Vanguards.

Signature was withheld on behalf of my client.

That was done by mandate, the mandate of the membership, if you will.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Would an individual member of the union have had the veto power under your theory?

William L. Summers:

Sir, not really veto power.