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U.S. Supreme Court

Firefighters v. City of Cleveland, 478 U.S. 501 (1986)

Local Number 93, International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO, C.L.C.

v . City of Cleveland

No. 84-1999

Argued February 25, 1986

Decided July 2, 1986

478 U.S. 501


The Vanguards, an organization of black and Hispanic firefighters employed by respondent city of Cleveland, filed a class action in Federal District Court charging the city and various city officials with discrimination on the basis of race and national origin in hiring, assigning, and promoting firefighters in violation of, inter alia, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Petitioner labor union, which represents a majority of the city's firefighters, was permitted to intervene as a party plaintiff. Over petitioner's objection, the court adopted a consent decree that provided for the use of race-conscious relief and other affirmative action in promoting firefighters. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held. Section 706(g) of Title VII does not preclude entry of a consent decree, such as was entered in this case, that may benefit individuals who were not the actual victims of the defendant's discriminatory practices; whether or not § 706(g) precludes a court from imposing certain forms of race-conscious relief after trial, it does not apply to relief awarded in a consent decree. Pp. 478 U. S. 515-530.

(a) Congress intended that voluntary compliance be the preferred means of achieving Title VII's objectives. Voluntary action available to employers and unions seeking to eradicate race discrimination may include reasonable race-conscious relief that benefits individuals who are not actual victims of that discrimination. Steelworkers v. Weber, 443 U. S. 193. Absent some contrary indication, there is no reason why such voluntary action is rendered impermissible by Title VII simply because it is incorporated into a consent decree. No such contrary indication is provided by § 706(g)'s last sentence, which precludes a district court from entering an order requiring the hiring or promotion of an individual who was refused employment or promotion for any reason other than discrimination. Whatever the extent of the limits Congress placed in § 706(g)'s last sentence on the power of federal courts to impose obligations on employers or unions to remedy violations of Title VII, § 706(g) by itself does not restrict the ability of employers or unions to enter into voluntary agreements providing race-conscious relief. Because the voluntary nature of a consent decree is its most fundamental chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 478 U. S. 502

characteristic, it is apparent that consent decrees are not included among the "orders" referred to in § 706(g). The party's agreement, rather than the force of law upon which the complaint was originally based, creates the obligations embodied in a consent decree. Pp. 478 U. S. 515-524.

(b) A federal court is not necessarily barred from entering a consent decree merely because the decree provides broader relief than the court could have awarded after a trial. Inasmuch as the limits placed by § 706(g) on the remedial authority of a federal court -- whatever these may be -- are not implicated by voluntary agreements, there is no conflict with or violation of § 706(g) when a federal court enters a consent decree that provides such relief. Firefighters v. Stotts, 467 U. S. 561, and Railway Employees v. Wright, 364 U. S. 642, distinguished. Pp. 478 U. S. 524-528.

(c) The fact that the consent decree in this case was entered without petitioner's consent does not affect its validity. While an intervenor is entitled to present evidence and have its objections heard at the hearings on whether to approve a consent decree, it does not have power to block the decree merely by withholding its consent. The consent decree here does not bind petitioner to do or not do anything. It imposes no legal duties or obligations on petitioner, and does not purport to resolve any other claims petitioner might have under the Fourteenth Amendment, § 703 of Title VII, or as a matter of contract. Whether it is too late to raise such claims, or, if not, whether the claims have any merit, are questions that must be presented in the first instance to the District Court, which has retained jurisdiction to hear such challenges. Pp. 478 U. S. 528-530.

753 F.2d 479, affirmed.

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. 478 U. S. 530. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 478 U. S. 531. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C J., joined, post, p. 478 U. S. 535. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 478 U. S. 504

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