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decided: July 2, 1986.



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.

Author: Brennan

[ 478 U.S. Page 504]

 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

[ 478 U.S. 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.*fn1 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 canceling 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 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

[ 478 U.S. 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:

"[When] 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.

[ 478 U.S. Page 507]

     Local 93 subsequently submitted a three-page document entitled "Complaint of Applicant for Intervention." Despite its title, this document did not allege any causes of action or assert any claims against either the Vanguards or the City. It expressed the view that "[promotions] based upon any criterion other than competence, such as a racial quota system, would deny those most capable from their promotions and would deny the residents of the City of Cleveland from maintaining the best possible fire fighting force," and asserted that "Local #93's interest is to maintain a well trained and properly staffed fire fighting force and [Local 93] contends that promotions should be made on the basis of demonstrated competency, properly measured by competitive examinations administered in accordance with the applicable provisions of Federal, State, and Local laws." App. 27, 28. The "complaint" concluded with a prayer for relief in the form of an injunction requiring the City to award promotions on the basis of such examinations. Id., at 28.

In the meantime, negotiations between the Vanguards and the City continued, and a proposed consent decree was submitted to the District Court in November 1981. This proposal established "interim procedures" to be implemented "as a two-step temporary remedy" for past discrimination in promotions. Id., at 33. The first step required that a fixed number of already planned promotions be reserved for minorities: specifically, 16 of 40 planned promotions to Lieutenant, 3 of 20 planned promotions to Captain, 2 of 10 planned promotions to Battalion Chief, and 1 of 3 planned promotions to Assistant Chief were to be made to minority firefighters. Id., at 33-34. The second step involved the establishment of "appropriate minority promotion [goals]," id., at 34, for the ranks of Lieutenant, Captain, and Battalion Chief. The proposal also required the City to forgo using seniority points as a factor in making promotions. Id., at 32-33. The plan was to remain in effect for nine years, and could be extended

[ 478 U.S. Page 508]

     upon mutual application of the parties for an additional 6-year period. Id., at 36.

The District Court held a 2-day hearing at the beginning of January to consider the fairness of this proposed consent decree. Local 93 objected to the use of minority promotional goals and to the 9-year life of the decree. In addition, the Union protested the fact that it had not been included in the negotiations. This latter objection particularly troubled the District Judge. Indeed, although hearing evidence presented by the Vanguards and the City in support of the decree, the Judge stated that he was "appalled that these negotiations leading to this consent decree did not include the intervenors . . . ," and refused to pass on the decree under the circumstances. Tr. 134 (Jan. 7, 1982). Instead, he concluded: "I am going to at this time to defer this proceeding until another day and I am mandating the City and the [Vanguards] to engage the Fire Fighters in discussions, in dialogue. Let them know what is going on, hear their particular problems." Id., at 151. At the same time, Judge Lambros explained that the Union would have to make its objections more specific to accomplish anything: "I don't think the Fire Fighters are going to be able to win their position on the basis that, 'Well, Judge, you know, there's something inherently wrong about quotas. You know, it's not fair.' We need more than that." Id., at 153.

A second hearing was held on April 27. Local 93 continued to oppose any form of affirmative action. Witnesses for all parties testified concerning the proposed consent decree. The testimony revealed that, while the consent decree dealt only with the 40 promotions to Lieutenant already planned by the City, the Fire Department was actually authorized to make up to 66 offers; similarly, the City was in a position to hire 32 rather than 20 Captains and 14 rather than 10 Battalion Chiefs. After hearing this testimony, Judge Lambros proposed as an alternative to have the City make a high number of promotions over a relatively short period of time. The

[ 478 U.S. Page 509]

     Judge explained that if the City were to hire 66 Lieutenants rather than 40, it could "plug in a substantial number of black leadership that can start having some influence in the operation of this fire department" while still promoting the same nonminority officers who would have obtained promotions under the existing system. Tr. 147-148 (Apr. 27, 1982). Additional testimony revealed that this approach had led to the amicable resolution of similar litigation in Atlanta, Georgia. Judge Lambros persuaded the parties to consider revamping the consent decree along the lines of the Atlanta plan. The proceedings were therefore adjourned and the matter was referred to a United States Magistrate.

Counsel for all three parties participated in 40 hours of intensive negotiations under the Magistrate's supervision and agreed to a revised consent decree that incorporated a modified version of the Atlanta plan. See App. 79 (Report of Magistrate). However, submission of this proposal to the court was made contingent upon approval by the membership of Local 93. Despite the fact that the revised consent decree actually increased the number of supervisory positions available to nonminority firefighters, the Union members overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.*fn2

[ 478 U.S. Page 510]

     On January 11, 1983, the Vanguards and the City lodged a second amended consent decree with the court and moved for its approval. This proposal was "patterned very closely upon the revised decree negotiated under the supervision of [the] Magistrate . . . ," App. to Pet. for Cert. A31, and thus its central feature was the creation of many more promotional opportunities for firefighters of all races. Specifically, the decree required that the City immediately make 66 promotions to Lieutenant, 32 promotions to Captain, 16 promotions to Battalion Chief, and 4 promotions to Assistant Chief. These promotions were to be based on a promotional examination that had been administered during the litigation. The 66 initial promotions to Lieutenant were to be evenly split between minority and nonminority firefighters. However, since only 10 minorities had qualified for the 52 upper-level positions, the proposed decree provided that all 10 should be promoted. The decree further required promotional examinations to be administered in June 1984 and December 1985. Promotions from the lists produced by these examinations were to be made in accordance with specified promotional "goals" that were expressed in terms of percentages and were different for each rank. The list from the 1985 examination would remain in effect for two years, after which time the decree would expire. The life of the decree was thus shortened from nine years to four. In addition, except where necessary to implement specific requirements of the consent decree, the use of seniority points was restored as a factor in ranking candidates for promotion. Id., at A29-A38.

Local 93 was mentioned twice in the proposal. Paragraph 16 required the City to submit progress reports concerning compliance to both the Union and the Vanguards. Id., at A36. In paragraph 24, the court reserved exclusive jurisdiction with respect to applications or claims made by "any

[ 478 U.S. Page 511]

     party, including Intervenor." Id., at A38. The decree imposed no legal duties or obligations on Local 93.

On January 19, the City was ordered to notify the members of the plaintiff class of the terms of the proposed decree. In addition, persons who wished to object to the proposal were ordered to submit their objections in writing. Local 93 filed the following formal objection to the proposed consent decree:

"Local #93 has consistently and steadfastly maintained that there must be a more equitable, more fair, more just way to correct the problems caused by the [City]. Many alternatives to the hopefully soon to be unnecessary 'remedial' methods embodied in the law have been explored and some have been utilized.

"Local #93 reiterates it's [sic] absolute and total objection to the use of racial quotas which must by their very nature cause serious racial polarization in the Fire Service. Since this problem is obviously the concern of the collective representative of all members of the fire service, Intervenors, Local #93. [sic] We respectfully urge this court not to implement the 'remedial' provisions of this Decree." App. 98.

Apart from thus expressing its opinion as to the wisdom and necessity of the proposed consent decree, the Union still failed to assert any legal claims against either the Vanguards or the City.*fn3

The District Court approved the consent decree on January 31, 1983. Judge Lambros found that "[the] documents, statistics, and testimony presented at the January and April 1982 hearings reveal a historical pattern of racial discrimination in the promotions in the City of Cleveland Fire Department."

[ 478 U.S. Page 512]

     App. to Brief in Opposition of City of Cleveland A3-A4. He then observed:

"While the concerns articulated by Local 93 may be valid, the use of a quota system for the relatively short period of four years is not unreasonable in light of the demonstrated history of racial discrimination in promotions in the City of Cleveland Fire Department. It is neither unreasonable nor unfair to require non-minority firefighters who, although they committed no wrong, benefited from the effects of the discrimination to bear some of the burden of the remedy. Furthermore, the amended proposal is more reasonable and less burdensome than the nine-year plan that had been proposed originally." Id., at A5.

The Judge therefore overruled the Union's objection and adopted the consent decree "as a fair, reasonable, and adequate resolution of the claims raised in this action." Ibid. The District Court retained exclusive jurisdiction for "all purposes of enforcement, modification, or amendment of [the] Decree upon the application of any party . . . ." App. to Pet. for Cert. A38.

The Union appealed the overruling of its objections. A panel for the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed, one judge dissenting. Vanguards of Cleveland v. City of Cleveland, 753 F.2d 479 (1985). The court rejected the Union's claim that the use of race-conscious relief was "unreasonable," finding such relief justified by the statistical evidence presented to the District Court and the City's express admission that it had engaged in discrimination. The court also found that the consent decree was "fair and reasonable to non-minority firefighters," emphasizing the "relatively modest goals set forth in the plan," the fact that "the plan does not require the hiring of unqualified minority firefighters or the discharge of any non-minority firefighters," the fact that the plan "does not create an absolute bar to the advancement

[ 478 U.S. Page 513]

     of non-minority employees," and the short duration of the plan. Id., at 485.

After oral argument before the Court of Appeals, this Court decided Firefighters v. Stotts, 467 U.S. 561 (1984). "Concerned with the potential impact of Stotts," the Court of Appeals ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefs, 753 F.2d, at 485-486, but ultimately concluded that Stotts did not affect the outcome of the case. The court noted that the District Court in Stotts had issued an injunction requiring layoffs over the objection of the City, while in this case the City of Cleveland had agreed to the plan. The court reasoned that even if Stotts holds that Title VII limits relief to those who have been actual victims of discrimination, "[the] fact that this case involves a consent decree and not an injunction makes the legal basis of the Stotts decision inapplicable." 753 F.2d, at 486.*fn4

Local 93 petitioned this Court for a writ of certiorari. The sole issue raised by the petition is whether the consent decree is an impermissible remedy under § 706(g) of Title VII.*fn5

[ 478 U.S. Page 514]

     Local 93 argues that the consent decree disregards the express prohibition of the last sentence of § 706(g) that

"[no] order of the court shall require the admission or reinstatement of an individual as a member of a union, or the hiring, reinstatement, or promotion of an individual as an employee, or the payment to him of any back pay, if such individual was refused admission, suspended, or expelled, or was refused employment or advancement or was suspended or discharged for any reason other than discrimination on account of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin or in violation of section 2000e-3(a) of this title." 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5(g) (emphasis added).

According to Local 93, this sentence precludes a court from awarding relief under Title VII that may benefit individuals who were not the actual victims of the employer's discrimination. The Union argues further that the plain language of the provision that "[no] order of the court" shall provide such relief extends this limitation to orders entered by consent in addition to orders issued after litigation. Consequently, the Union concludes that a consent decree entered in Title VII litigation is invalid if -- like the consent decree approved in this case -- it utilizes racial preferences that may ...

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