Firefighters v. StottsAnnotate this Case
467 U.S. 561 (1984)
U.S. Supreme Court
Firefighters v. Stotts, 467 U.S. 561 (1984)
Firefighters Local Union No. 1784 v. Stotts
Argued December 6, 1984
Decided June 12, 1984
467 U.S. 561
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Respondent Stotts, a black member of petitioner Memphis, Tenn., Fire Department, filed a class action in Federal District Court charging that the Department and certain city officials were engaged in a pattern or practice of making hiring and promotion decisions on the basis of race in violation of, inter alia, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This action was consolidated with an action filed by respondent Jones, also a black member of the Department, who claimed that he had been denied a promotion because of his race. Thereafter, a consent decree was entered with the stated purpose of remedying the Department's hiring and promotion practices with respect to blacks. Subsequently, when the city announced that projected budget deficits required a reduction of city employees, the District Court entered an order preliminarily enjoining the Department from following its seniority system in determining who would be laid off as a result of the budgetary shortfall, since the proposed layoffs would have a racially discriminatory effect and the seniority system was not a bona fide one. A modified layoff plan, aimed at protecting black employees so as to comply with the court's order, was then presented and approved, and layoffs pursuant to this plan were carried out. This resulted in white employees with more seniority than black employees being laid off when the otherwise applicable seniority system would have called for the layoff of black employees with less seniority. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, although the District Court was wrong in holding that the seniority system was not bona fide, it had acted properly in modifying the consent decree.
1. These cases are not rendered moot by the facts that the preliminary injunction purportedly applied only to 1981 layoffs, that all white employees laid off as a result of the injunction were restored to duty only one month after their layoff, and that others who were demoted have been offered back their old positions. First, the injunction is still in force, and, unless set aside, must be complied with in connection with any
future layoffs. Second, even if the injunction applied only to the 1981 layoffs, the predicate for it was the ruling that the consent decree must be modified to provide that the layoffs were not to reduce the percentage of black employees, and the lower courts' rulings that the seniority system must be disregarded for the purpose of achieving the mandated result remain undisturbed. Accordingly, the inquiry is not merely whether the injunction is still in effect, but whether the mandated modification of the consent decree continues to have an impact on the parties such that the cases remain alive. Respondents have failed to convince this Court that the modification and the pro tanto invalidation of the seniority system are of no real concern to the city because it will never again contemplate layoffs that, if carried out in accordance with the seniority system, would violate the modified decree. Finally, the judgment below will have a continuing effect on management of the Fire Department with respect to making whole the white employees who were laid off and thereby lost a month's pay and seniority, or who were demoted and thereby may have backpay claims. Unless that judgment is reversed, the layoffs and demotions were in accordance with the law. The fact that not much money and seniority are involved does not determine mootness. Pp. 467 U. S. 568-572.
2. The District Court's preliminary injunction cannot be justified either as an effort to enforce the consent decree or as a valid modification thereof. Pp. 467 U. S. 572-583.
(a) The injunction does not merely enforce the agreement of the parties as reflected in the consent decree. The scope of a consent decree must be discerned within its four corners. Here, the consent decree makes no mention of layoffs or demotions, nor is there any suggestion of an intention to depart from the existing seniority system or from the Department's arrangement with the union. It therefore cannot be said that the decree's express terms contemplated that such an injunction would be entered. Nor is the injunction proper as carrying out the stated purpose of the decree. The remedy outlined in the decree did not include the displacement of white employees with seniority over blacks, and cannot reasonably be construed to exceed the bounds of remedies that are appropriate under Title VII. Title VII protects bona fide seniority systems, and it is inappropriate to deny an innocent employee the benefits of his seniority in order to provide a remedy in a pattern-or-practice suit such as this. Moreover, since neither the union nor the white employees were parties to the suit when the consent decree was entered, the entry of such decree cannot be said to indicate any agreement by them to any of its terms. Pp. 467 U. S. 573-576.
(b) The theory that the strong policy favoring voluntary settlement of Title VII actions permits consent decrees that encroach on seniority
systems does not justify the preliminary injunction as a legitimate modification of the consent decree. That theory has no application when there is no "settlement" with respect to the disputed issue, such as here, where the consent decree neither awarded competitive seniority to the minority employees nor purported to depart from the existing seniority system. Nor can the injunction be so justified on the basis that, if the allegations in the complaint had been proved, the District Court could have entered an order overriding the seniority provisions. This approach overstates a trial court's authority to disregard a seniority system in fashioning a remedy after a plaintiff has proved that an employer has followed a pattern or practice having a discriminatory effect on black employees. Here, there was no finding that any of the blacks protected from layoff had been a victim of discrimination nor any award of competitive seniority to any of them. The Court of Appeals' holding that the District Court's order modifying the consent decree was permissible as a valid Title VII remedial order ignores not only the ruling in Teamsters v. United States,431 U. S. 324, that a court can award competitive seniority only when the beneficiary of the award has actually been a victim of illegal discrimination, but also the policy behind § 706(g) of Title VII of providing make-whole relief only to such victims. And there is no merit to the argument that the District Court ordered no more than that which the city could have done by way of adopting an affirmative action program, since the city took no such action, and the modification of the decree was imposed over its objection. Pp. 467 U. S. 576-583.
679 F.2d 541, reversed.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 467 U. S. 583. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 467 U. S. 590. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 467 U. S. 593.
JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioners challenge the Court of Appeals' approval of an order enjoining the City of Memphis from following its seniority system in determining who must be laid off as a result of a budgetary shortfall. Respondents contend that the injunction was necessary to effectuate the terms of a Title VII consent decree in which the City agreed to undertake certain obligations in order to remedy past hiring and promotional
practices. Because we conclude that the order cannot be justified, either as an effort to enforce the consent decree or as a valid modification, we reverse.
In 1977, respondent Carl Stotts, a black holding the position of firefighting captain in the Memphis, Tenn., Fire Department, filed a class action complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The complaint charged that the Memphis Fire Department and certain city officials were engaged in a pattern or practice of making hiring and promotion decisions on the basis of race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as well as 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. The District Court certified the case as a class action and consolidated it with an individual action subsequently filed by respondent Fred Jones, a black firefighting private in the Department, who claimed that he had been denied a promotion because of his race. Discovery proceeded, settlement negotiations ensued, and, in due course, a consent decree was approved and entered by the District Court on April 25, 1980.
The stated purpose of the decree was to remedy the hiring and promotion practices "of the . . . Department with respect to the employment of blacks." 679 F.2d 541, 575-576 (CA6 1982) (Appendix). Accordingly, the City agreed to promote 13 named individuals and to provide backpay to 81 employees of the Fire Department. It also adopted the long-term goal of increasing the proportion of minority representation in each job classification in the Fire Department to approximately the proportion of blacks in the labor force in Shelby County, Tenn. However, the City did not, by agreeing to the decree, admit "any violations of law, rule, or regulation with respect to the allegations" in the complaint. Id. at 574. The plaintiffs waived any further relief save to enforce the decree, ibid., and the District Court retained jurisdiction "for
such further orders as may be necessary or appropriate to effectuate the purposes of this decree." Id. at 578.
The long-term hiring goal outlined in the decree paralleled the provisions of a 1974 consent decree, which settled a case brought against the City by the United States and which applied city-wide. Like the 1974 decree, the 1980 decree also established an interim hiring goal of filling on an annual basis 50 percent of the job vacancies in the Department with qualified black applicants. The 1980 decree contained an additional goal with respect to promotions: the Department was to attempt to ensure that 20 percent of the promotions in each job classification be given to blacks. Neither decree contained provisions for layoffs or reductions in rank, and neither awarded any competitive seniority. The 1974 decree did require that, for purposes of promotion, transfer, and assignment, seniority was to be computed "as the total seniority of that person with the City." Id. at 572.
In early May, 1981, the City announced that projected budget deficits required a reduction of nonessential personnel throughout the city government. Layoffs were to be based on the "last hired, first fired" rule under which city-wide seniority, determined by each employee's length of continuous service from the latest date of permanent employment, was the basis for deciding who would be laid off. If a senior employee's position were abolished or eliminated, the employee could "bump down" to a lower ranking position, rather than be laid off. As the Court of Appeals later noted, this layoff policy was adopted pursuant to the seniority system "mentioned in the 1974 Decree and . . . incorporated in the City's memorandum of understanding with the Union." 679 F.2d at 549.
On May 4, at respondents' request, the District Court entered a temporary restraining order forbidding the layoff of any black employee. The Union, which previously had not been a party to either of these cases, was permitted to intervene. At the preliminary injunction hearing, it appeared
that 55 then-filled positions in the Department were to be eliminated and that 39 of these positions were filled with employees having "bumping" rights. It was estimated that 40 least-senior employees in the firefighting bureau of the Department [Footnote 1] would be laid off, and that, of these, 25 were white and 15 black. It also appeared that 56 percent of the employees hired in the Department since 1974 had been black, and that the percentage of black employees had increased from approximately 3 or 4 percent in 1974 to 11 1/2 percent in 1980.
On May 18, the District Court entered an order granting an injunction. The court found that the consent decree "did not contemplate the method to be used for reduction in rank or lay-off," and that the layoff policy was in accordance with the City's seniority system, and was not adopted with any intent to discriminate. Nonetheless, concluding that the proposed layoffs would have a racially discriminatory effect, and that the seniority system was not a bona fide one, the District Court ordered that the City
"not apply the seniority policy proposed insofar as it will decrease the percentage of black lieutenants, drivers, inspectors and privates that are presently employed. . . ."
On June 23, the District Court broadened its order to include three additional classifications. A modified layoff plan, aimed at protecting black employees in the seven classifications so as to comply with the court's order, was presented and approved. Layoffs pursuant to the modified plan were then carried out. In certain instances, to comply with the injunction, nonminority employees with more seniority than minority employees were laid off or demoted in rank. [Footnote 2]
On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed despite its conclusion that the District Court was wrong in holding that the City's seniority system was not bona fide. 679 F.2d at 551, n. 6. Characterizing the principal issue as
"whether the district court erred in modifying the 1980 Decree to prevent minority employment from being affected disproportionately by unanticipated layoffs,"
id. at 551, the Court of Appeals concluded that the District Court had acted properly. After determining that the decree was properly approved in the first instance, the court held that the modification was permissible under general contract principles because the City "contracted" to provide "a substantial increase in the number of minorities in supervisory positions," and the layoffs would breach that contract. Id. at 561. Alternatively, the court held that the District Court was authorized to modify the decree because new and unforeseen circumstances had created a hardship for one of the parties to the decree. Id. at 562-563. Finally, articulating three alternative rationales, the court rejected petitioners' argument that the modification was improper because it conflicted with the City's seniority system, which was immunized from Title VII attack under § 703(h) of that Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(h).
The Fire Department (and city officials) and the Union filed separate petitions for certiorari. The two petitions were granted, 462 U.S. 1105 (1983), and the cases were consolidated for oral argument.
We deal first with the claim that these cases are moot. Respondents submit that the injunction entered in these cases was a preliminary injunction dealing only with the 1981 layoffs, that all white employees laid off as a result of the injunction were restored to duty only one month after their lay-off,
and that those who were demoted have now been offered back their old positions. Assertedly, the injunction no longer has force or effect, and the cases are therefore moot. For several reasons, we find the submission untenable.
First, the injunction, on its face, ordered that "the defendants not apply the seniority policy proposed insofar as it will decrease the percentage of black" employees in specified classifications in the Department. The seniority policy was the policy adopted by the City and contained in the collective bargaining contract with the Union. The injunction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, and has never been vacated. It would appear from its terms that the injunction is still in force, and that, unless set aside, must be complied with in connection with any future layoffs.
Second, even if the injunction itself applied only to the 1981 layoffs, the predicate for the so-called preliminary injunction was the ruling that the consent decree must be construed to mean, and, in any event, must be modified to provide, that layoffs were not to reduce the percentage of blacks employed in the Fire Department. Furthermore, both the District Court and the Court of Appeals, for different reasons, held that the seniority provisions of the City's collective bargaining contract must be disregarded for the purpose of achieving the mandated result. These rulings remain undisturbed, and we see no indication that respondents concede, in urging mootness, that these rulings were in error and should be reversed. To the contrary, they continue to defend them. Unless overturned, these rulings would require the City to obey the modified consent decree and to disregard its seniority agreement in making future layoffs.
Accordingly, the inquiry is not merely whether the injunction is still in effect, but whether the mandated modification of the consent decree continues to have an impact on the parties such that the case remains alive. [Footnote 3] We are quite unconvinced
-- and it is the respondents' burden to convince us, County of Los Angeles v. Davis,440 U. S. 625, 440 U. S. 631 (1979) -- that the modification of the decree and the pro tanto invalidation of the seniority system is of no real concern to the City because it will never again contemplate layoffs that, if carried out in accordance with the seniority system would violate the modified decree. [Footnote 4] For this reason alone, the case is not moot.
Third, the judgment below will have a continuing effect on the City's management of the Department in still another way. Although the City has restored or offered to restore to their former positions all white employees who were laid off or demoted, those employees have not been made whole: those who were laid off have lost a month's pay, as well as seniority that has not been restored; and those employees who "bumped down" and accepted lesser positions will also have backpay claims if their demotions were unjustified. Unless the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, however, the layoffs and demotions were in accordance with the law, and it would be quite unreasonable to expect the City to pay out money to which the employees had no legal right. Nor would it feel free to respond to the seniority claims of the three white employees who, as the City points out, lost competitive seniority in relation to all other individuals who were not laid off, including those minority employees who would have been laid off but for the injunction. [Footnote 5] On the other hand, if the Court of Appeals' judgment is reversed, the City would be free to take a wholly different position with respect to backpay and seniority.
Undoubtedly, not much money and seniority are involved, but the amount of money and seniority at stake does not determine mootness. As long as the parties have a concrete interest in the outcome of the litigation, the case is not moot notwithstanding the size of the dispute. Powell v. McCormack,395 U. S. 486, 395 U. S. 496-498 (1969). Moreover, a month's pay is not a negligible item for those affected by the injunction, and the loss of a month's competitive seniority may later
determine who gets a promotion, who is entitled to bid for transfers, or who is first laid off if there is another reduction in force. These are matters of substance, it seems to us, and enough so to foreclose any claim of mootness. Cf. Franks v. Bowman Transportation Co.,424 U. S. 747, 424 U. S. 756 (1976); Powell v. McCormack, supra, at 395 U. S. 496-498; Bond v. Floyd,385 U. S. 116, 385 U. S. 128, n. 4 (1966).
In short, respondents successfully attacked the City's initial layoff plan and secured a judgment modifying the consent decree, ordering the City to disregard its seniority policy, and enjoining any layoffs that would reduce the percentage of blacks in the Department. Respondents continue to defend those rulings, which, as we have said, may determine the City's disposition of backpay claims and claims for restoration of competitive seniority that will affect respondents themselves. It is thus unrealistic to claim that there is no longer a dispute between the City and respondents with respect to the scope of the consent decree. Respondents cannot invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court to obtain a favorable modification of a consent decree and then insulate that ruling from appellate review by claiming that they are no longer interested in the matter, particularly when the modification continues to have adverse effects on the other parties to the action. [Footnote 6]
The issue at the heart of this case is whether the District Court exceeded its powers in entering an injunction requiring white employees to be laid off, when the otherwise applicable
seniority system [Footnote 7] would have called for the layoff of black employees with less seniority. [Footnote 8] We are convinced that the Court of Appeals erred in resolving this issue and in affirming the District Court.
The Court of Appeals first held that the injunction did no more than enforce the terms of the consent decree. This specific performance approach rests on the notion that because
the City was under a general obligation to use its best efforts to increase the proportion of blacks on the force, it breached the decree by attempting to effectuate a layoff policy reducing the percentage of black employees in the Department even though such a policy was mandated by the seniority system adopted by the City and the Union. A variation of this argument is that, since the decree permitted the District Court to enter any later orders that "may be necessary or appropriate to effectuate the purposes of this decree," 679 F.2d at 578 (Appendix), the City had agreed in advance to an injunction against layoffs that would reduce the proportion of black employees. We are convinced, however, that both of these are improvident constructions of the consent decree.
It is to be recalled that the
"scope of a consent decree must be discerned within its four corners, and not by reference to what might satisfy the purposes of one of the parties to it"
or by what "might have been written had the plaintiff established his factual claims and legal theories in litigation." United States v. Armour & Co.,402 U. S. 673, 402 U. S. 681-682 (1971). Here, as the District Court recognized, there is no mention of layoffs or demotions within the four corners of the decree; nor is there any suggestion of an intention to depart from the existing seniority system or from the City's arrangements with the Union. We cannot believe that the parties to the decree thought that the City would simply disregard its arrangements with the Union and the seniority system it was then following. Had there been any intention to depart from the seniority plan in the event of layoffs or demotions, it is much more reasonable to believe that there would have been an express provision to that effect. This is particularly true since the decree stated that it was not "intended to conflict with any provisions" of the 1974 decree, 679 F.2d at 574 (Appendix), and since the latter decree expressly anticipated that the City would recognize seniority, id. at 572. It is thus not surprising that, when the City anticipated layoffs and demotions, it in the first instance
faithfully followed its preexisting seniority system, plainly having no thought that it had already agreed to depart from it. It therefore cannot be said that the express terms of the decree contemplated that such an injunction would be entered.
The argument that the injunction was proper because it carried out the purposes of the decree is equally unconvincing. The decree announced that its purpose was "to remedy past hiring and promotion practices" of the Department, id. at 575-576, and to settle the dispute as to the "appropriate and valid procedures for hiring and promotion," id. at 574. The decree went on to provide the agreed-upon remedy, but, as we have indicated, that remedy did not include the displacement of white employees with seniority over blacks. Furthermore, it is reasonable to believe that the "remedy", which it was the purpose of the decree to provide, would not exceed the bounds of the remedies that are appropriate under Title VII, at least absent some express provision to that effect. As our cases have made clear, however, and as will be reemphasized below, Title VII protects bona fide seniority systems, and it is inappropriate to deny an innocent employee the benefits of his seniority in order to provide a remedy in a pattern-or-practice suit such as this. We thus have no doubt that the City considered its system to be valid, and that it had no intention of departing from it when it agreed to the 1980 decree.
Finally, it must be remembered that neither the Union nor the nonminority employees were parties to the suit when the 1980 decree was entered. Hence, the entry of that decree cannot be said to indicate any agreement by them to any of its terms. Absent the presence of the Union or the nonminority employees and an opportunity for them to agree or disagree with any provisions of the decree that might encroach on their rights, it seems highly unlikely that the City would purport to bargain away nonminority rights under the then-existing seniority system. We therefore conclude that the injunction does not merely enforce the agreement of the
parties as reflected in the consent decree. If the injunction is to stand, it must be justified on some other basis.
The Court of Appeals held that, even if the injunction is not viewed as compelling compliance with the terms of the decree, it was still properly entered because the District Court had inherent authority to modify the decree when an economic crisis unexpectedly required layoffs which, if carried out as the City proposed, would undermine the affirmative action outlined in the decree and impose an undue hardship on respondents. This was true, the court held, even though the modification conflicted with a bona fide seniority system adopted by the City. The Court of Appeals erred in reaching this conclusion. [Footnote 9]
Section 703(h) of Title VII provides that it is not an unlawful employment practice to apply different standards of compensation, or different terms, conditions, or privileges of employment pursuant to a bona fide seniority system, provided that such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate because of race. [Footnote 10] It is clear that the City had a seniority system, that its proposed layoff plan conformed to that system, and that, in making the settlement, the City had not agreed to award competitive seniority to any minority employee whom the City proposed to lay off. The District Court held that the City could not follow its seniority system in making its proposed layoffs, because its proposal was discriminatory in effect, and hence not a bona fide plan. Section 703(h), however, permits the routine application of a seniority system absent proof of an intention to discriminate. Teamsters v. United States,431 U. S. 324, 431 U. S. 352 (1977). Here, the District Court itself found that the layoff proposal was not adopted with the purpose or intent to discriminate on the basis of race. Nor had the City, in agreeing to the decree, admitted in any way that it had engaged in intentional discrimination. The Court of Appeals was therefore correct in disagreeing with the District Court's holding that the layoff plan was not a bona fide application of the seniority system, and it would appear that the City could not be faulted for following the seniority plan expressed in its agreement with
the Union. The Court of Appeals nevertheless held that the injunction was proper even though it conflicted with the seniority system. This was error.
To support its position, the Court of Appeals first proposed a "settlement" theory, i.e., that the strong policy favoring voluntary settlement of Title VII actions permitted consent decrees that encroached on seniority systems. But, at this stage in its opinion, the Court of Appeals was supporting the proposition that, even if the injunction was not merely enforcing the agreed-upon terms of the decree, the District Court had the authority to modify the decree over the objection of one of the parties. The settlement theory, whatever its merits might otherwise be, has no application when there is no "settlement" with respect to the disputed issue. Here, the agreed-upon decree neither awarded competitive seniority to the minority employees nor purported in any way to depart from the seniority system.
A second ground advanced by the Court of Appeals in support of the conclusion that the injunction could be entered notwithstanding its conflict with the seniority system was the assertion that
"[i]t would be incongruous to hold that the use of the preferred means of resolving an employment discrimination action decreases the power of a court to order relief which vindicates the policies embodied within Title VII and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983."
679 F.2d at 566. The court concluded that, if the allegations in the complaint had been proved, the District Court could have entered an order overriding the seniority provisions. Therefore, the court reasoned,
"[t]he trial court had authority to override the Firefighters' Union seniority provisions to effectuate the purpose of the 1980 Decree."
The difficulty with this approach is that it overstates the authority of the trial court to disregard a seniority system in fashioning a remedy after a plaintiff has successfully proved that an employer has followed a pattern or practice having a discriminatory effect on black applicants or employees. If individual members of a plaintiff class demonstrate that they
have been actual victims of the discriminatory practice, they may be awarded competitive seniority and given their rightful place on the seniority roster. This much is clear from Franks v. Bowman Transportation Co.,424 U. S. 747 (1976), and Teamsters v. United States, supra.Teamsters, however, also made clear that mere membership in the disadvantaged class is insufficient to warrant a seniority award; each individual must prove that the discriminatory practice had an impact on him. 431 U.S. at 431 U. S. 367-371. Even when an individual shows that the discriminatory practice has had an impact on him, he is not automatically entitled to have a nonminority employee laid off to make room for him. He may have to wait until a vacancy occurs, [Footnote 11] and if there are nonminority employees on layoff, the court must balance the equities in determining who is entitled to the job. Teamsters, supra, at 431 U. S. 371-376. See also Ford Motor Co. v. EEOC,458 U. S. 219, 458 U. S. 236-240 (1982). Here, there was no finding that any of the blacks protected from layoff had been a victim of discrimination, and no award of competitive seniority to any of them. Nor had the parties in formulating the consent decree purported to identify any specific employee entitled to particular relief other than those listed in the exhibits attached to the decree. It therefore seems to us that, in light of Teamsters, the Court of Appeals imposed on the parties as an adjunct of settlement something that could not have been ordered had the case gone to trial and the plaintiffs proved that a pattern or practice of discrimination existed.
Our ruling in Teamsters that a court can award competitive seniority only when the beneficiary of the award has actually been a victim of illegal discrimination is consistent with the policy behind § 706(g) of Title VII, which affects the remedies
available in Title VII litigation. [Footnote 12] That policy, which is to provide make-whole relief only to those who have been actual victims of illegal discrimination, was repeatedly expressed by the sponsors of the Act during the congressional debates. Opponents of the legislation that became Title VII charged that, if the bill were enacted, employers could be ordered to hire and promote persons in order to achieve a racially balanced workforce even though those persons had not been victims of illegal discrimination. [Footnote 13] Responding to these charges, Senator Humphrey explained the limits on a court's remedial powers as follows:
"No court order can require hiring, reinstatement, admission to membership, or payment of backpay for anyone who was not fired, refused employment or advancement or admission to a union by an act of discrimination forbidden by this title. This is stated expressly in the last sentence of section 707(e) [enacted without relevant change as § 706(g)]. . . . Contrary to the allegations of some opponents of this title, there is nothing in it that
will give any power to the Commission or to any court to require . . . firing . . . of employees in order to meet a racial 'quota' or to achieve a certain racial balance. That bugaboo has been brought up a dozen times; but it is nonexistent."
110 Cong.Rec. 6549 (1964). An interpretative memorandum of the bill entered into the Congressional Record by Senators Clark and Case [Footnote 14] likewise made clear that a court was not authorized to give preferential treatment to nonvictims.
"No court order can require hiring, reinstatement, admission to membership, or payment of back pay for anyone who was not discriminated against in violation of [Title VII]. This is stated expressly in the last sentence of section [706(g)]. . . ."
Id. at 7214.
Similar assurances concerning the limits on a court's authority to award make-whole relief were provided by supporters of the bill throughout the legislative process. For example, following passage of the bill in the House, its Republican House sponsors published a memorandum describing the bill. Referring to the remedial powers given the courts by the bill, the memorandum stated:
"Upon conclusion of the trial, the Federal court may enjoin an employer or labor organization from practicing further discrimination and may order the hiring or reinstatement of an employee or the acceptance or reinstatement of a union member. But title VII does not permit the ordering of racial quotas in businesses or unions. . . ."
Id. at 6566 (emphasis added). In like manner, the principal Senate sponsors, in a bipartisan newsletter delivered during an attempted filibuster to each Senator supporting the bill, explained that,
"[u]nder title VII, not even a court, much less the Commission, could order racial quotas or the hiring, reinstatement, admission to membership
or payment of back pay for anyone who is not discriminated against in violation of this title."
Id. at 14465. [Footnote 15] The Court of Appeals holding that the District Court's order was permissible as a valid Title VII remedial order ignores not only our ruling in Teamsters, but the policy behind
§ 706(g) as well. Accordingly, that holding cannot serve as a basis for sustaining the District Court's order. [Footnote 16]
Finally, the Court of Appeals was of the view that the District Court ordered no more than that which the City unilaterally could have done by way of adopting an affirmative action program. Whether the City, a public employer, could have taken this course without violating the law is an issue we need not decide. The fact is that, in these cases, the City took no such action, and that the modification of the decree was imposed over its objection. [Footnote 17]
We thus are unable to agree either that the order entered by the District Court was a justifiable effort to enforce the terms of the decree to which the City had agreed or that it was a legitimate modification of the decree that could be imposed on the City without its consent. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.
It is so ordered.
* Together with No. 82-229, Memphis Fire Department et al. v. Stotts et al., also on certiorari to the same court.
The Memphis Fire Department is divided into several bureaus, including firefighting, alarm office, administration, apparatus, maintenance, and fire prevention. Of the positions covered by the original injunction, all but one were in the firefighting bureau.
The City ultimately laid off 24 privates, 3 of whom were black. Had the seniority system been followed, 6 blacks would have been among the 24 privates laid off. Thus, three white employees were laid off as a direct result of the District Court's order. The number of whites demoted as a result of the order is not clear from the record before us.
The Court of Appeals, recognizing that the District Court had done more than temporarily preclude the City from applying its seniority system, stated that the "principal issue" before it was
"whether the district court erred in modifying the 1980 Decree to prevent minority employment from being affected disproportionately by unanticipated layoffs."
679 F.2d at 551.
Of course, if layoffs become necessary, both the City and respondents will be affected by the modified decree, the City because it will be unable to apply its seniority system, respondents because they will be given greater protection than they would otherwise receive under that system. Moreover, the City will be immediately affected by the modification even though no layoff is currently pending. If the lower courts' ruling is left intact, the City will no longer be able to promise current or future employees that layoffs will be conducted solely on the basis of seniority. Against its will, the City has been deprived of the power to offer its employees one of the benefits that make employment with the City attractive to many workers. Seniority has traditionally been, and continues to be, a matter of great concern to American workers.
"'More than any other provision of the collective [bargaining] agreement . . . seniority affects the economic security of the individual employee covered by its terms.'"
Franks v. Bowman Transportation Co.,424 U. S. 747, 424 U. S. 766 (1976) (quoting Aaron, Reflections on the Legal Nature and Enforceability of Seniority Rights, 75 Harv.L.Rev. 1532, 1535 (1962)). It is not idle speculation to suppose that the City will be required to offer greater monetary compensation or fringe benefits in order to attract and retain the same caliber and number of workers as it could without offering such benefits were it completely free to implement its seniority system. The extent to which the City's employment efforts will be harmed by the loss of this "bargaining chip" may be difficult to measure, but, in view of the importance that American workers have traditionally placed on such benefits, the harm cannot be said to be insignificant. Certainly, an employer's bargaining position is as substantially affected by a decree precluding it from offering its employees the benefits of a seniority system as it is by a state statute that provides economic benefits to striking employees. Super Tire Engineering Co. v. McCorkle,416 U. S. 115, 416 U. S. 122-125 (1974).
Since the District Court's order precludes the City from reducing the percentage of black employees holding particular jobs in the event of a layoff or reduction in rank, and since competitive seniority is the basis for determining who will be laid off or bumped down, there is some question whether, in light of the judgment below, the City could legally restore to the laid-off employees the competitive seniority they had before the layoffs without violating the order.
The present case is distinguishable from University of Texas v. Camenisch,451 U. S. 390 (1981), on which the dissent relies, in that the defendant in Camenisch was not a party to a decree that had been modified by the lower court. When the injunction in that case expired, the defendant was in all respects restored to its pre-injunction status. Here, the City is faced with a modified consent decree that prevents it from applying its seniority system in the manner that it chooses.
Respondents contend that the memorandum of understanding between the Union and the City is unenforceable under state law, citing Fulenwider v. Firefighters Assn. Local Union. 1784, 649 S.W.2d 268 (Tenn.1982). However, the validity of that memorandum under state law is unimportant for purposes of the issues presented in this case. First, the Court of Appeals assumed that the memorandum was valid in reaching its decision. 679 F.2d at 564, n. 20. Since we are reviewing that decision, we are free to assume the same. Moreover, even if the memorandum is unenforceable, the City's seniority system is still in place. The City unilaterally adopted the seniority system city-wide in 1973. That policy was incorporated into the memorandum of understanding with the Firefighters Union in 1975, but its city-wide effect, including its application to the Fire Department, continues irrespective of the status of the memorandum.
The dissent's contention that the only issue before us is whether the District Court so misapplied the standards for issuing a preliminary injunction that it abused its discretion, post at 467 U. S. 601, overlooks what the District Court did in this case. The District Court did not purport to apply the standards for determining whether to issue a preliminary injunction. It did not even mention them. Instead, having found that the consent decree did "not contemplate what method would be used for a reduction in rank or layoff," the court considered "whether or not . . . it should exercise its authority to modify the consent decree. . . ." App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 82-229, p. A73. As noted above, the Court of Appeals correctly recognized that more was at stake than a mere preliminary injunction, stating that the "principal issue" was
"whether the district court erred in modifying the 1980 Decree to prevent minority employment from being affected disproportionately by unanticipated layoffs."
679 F.2d at 551. By deciding whether the District Court erred in interpreting or modifying the consent decree so as to preclude the City from applying its seniority system, we do not, as the dissent shrills, attempt to answer a question never faced by the lower courts.
The dissent seems to suggest, post at 467 U. S. 611, and n. 9, and JUSTICE STEVENS expressly states, post at 467 U. S. 590, that Title VII is irrelevant in determining whether the District Court acted properly in modifying the consent decree. However, this was Title VII litigation, and in affirming modifications of the decree, the Court of Appeals relied extensively on what it considered to be its authority under Title VII. That is the posture in which the cases come to us. Furthermore, the District Court's authority to impose a modification of a decree is not wholly dependent on the decree.
"[T]he District Court's authority to adopt a consent decree comes only from the statute which the decree is intended to enforce,"
not from the parties' consent to the decree. Railway Employees v. Wright,364 U. S. 642, 364 U. S. 651 (1961). In recognition of this principle, this Court in Wright held that, when a change in the law brought the terms of a decree into conflict with the statute pursuant to which the decree was entered, the decree should be modified over the objections of one of the parties bound by the decree. By the same token, and for the same reason, a district court cannot enter a disputed modification of a consent decree in Title VII litigation if the resulting order is inconsistent with that statute.
Thus, Title VII necessarily acted as a limit on the District Court's authority to modify the decree over the objections of the City; the issue cannot be resolved solely by reference to the terms of the decree and notions of equity. Since, as we note infra at 467 U. S. 577, Title VII precludes a district court from displacing a nonminority employee with seniority under the contractually established seniority system absent either a finding that the seniority system was adopted with discriminatory intent or a determination that such a remedy was necessary to make whole a proven victim of discrimination, the District Court was precluded from granting such relief over the City's objection in these cases.
Section 703 (h) provides that
"it shall not be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to apply different standards of compensation, or different terms, conditions, or privileges of employment pursuant to a bona fide seniority or merit system . . . provided that such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. . . ."
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(h).
Lower courts have uniformly held that relief for actual victims does not extend to bumping employees previously occupying jobs. See, e.g., Patterson v. American Tobacco Co., 535 F.2d 257, 267 (CA4), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 920 (1976); Local 189, United Papermakers and Paperworkers v. United States, 416 F.2d 980, 988 (CA5 1969), cert. denied, 397 U.S. 919 (1970).
Section 706(g) provides:
"If the court finds that the respondent has intentionally engaged in or is intentionally engaging in an unlawful employment practice charged in the complaint, the court may enjoin the respondent from engaging in such unlawful employment practice, and order such affirmative action as may be appropriate, which may include, but is not limited to, reinstatement or hiring of employees, with or without back pay . . . or any other equitable relief as the court deems appropriate. . . . 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 § 704(a) of this title."
86 Stat. 107, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(g).
See H.R.Rep. No. 914, 88th Cong., 1st Sess., 72-73 (1963) (minority report); 110 Cong.Rec. 4764 (1964) (remarks of Sen. Ervin and Sen. Hill); id. at 5092, 7418-7420 (remarks of Sen. Robertson); id. at 8500 (remarks of Sen. Smathers); id. at 9034-9035 (remarks of Sen. Stennis and Sen. Tower).
Senators Clark and Case were the bipartisan "captains" of Title VII. We have previously recognized the authoritative nature of their interpretative memorandum. American Tobacco Co. v. Patterson,456 U. S. 63, 456 U. S. 73 (1982); Teamsters v. United States,431 U. S. 324, 431 U. S. 352 (1977).
The dissent suggests that Congress abandoned this policy in 1972, when it amended § 706(g) to make clear that a court may award "any other equitable relief" that the court deems appropriate. Post at 467 U. S. 619-620. As support for this proposition, the dissent notes that, prior to 1972, some federal courts had provided remedies to those who had not proved that they were victims. It then observes that, in a section-by-section analysis of the bill, its sponsors stated that,
"in any areas where a specific contrary intention is not indicated, it was assumed that the present case law as developed by the courts would continue to govern the applicability and construction of Title VII."
118 Cong.Rec. 7167 (1972).
We have already rejected, however, the contention that Congress intended to codify all existing Title VII decisions when it made this brief statement. See Teamsters, supra, at 431 U. S. 354, n. 39. Moreover, the statement, on its face, refers only to those sections not changed by the 1972 amendments. It cannot serve as a basis for discerning the effect of the changes that were made by the amendment. Finally, and of most importance, in a later portion of the same section-by-section analysis, the sponsors explained their view of existing law and the effect that the amendment would have on that law.
"The provisions of this subsection are intended to give the courts wide discretion exercising their equitable powers to fashion the most complete relief possible. In dealing with the present § 706(g), the courts have stressed that the scope of relief under that section of the Act is intended to make the victims of unlawful discrimination whole, and that the attainment of this objective rests not only upon the elimination of the particular unlawful employment practice complained of, but also requires that persons aggrieved by the consequences and effects of the unlawful employment practice be, so far as possible, restored to a position where they would have been were it not for the unlawful discrimination."
118 Cong.Rec. at 7168 (emphasis added).
As we noted in Franks, the 1972 amendments evidence
"emphatic confirmation that federal courts are empowered to fashion such relief as the particular circumstances of a case may require to effect restitution, making whole insofar as possible the victims of racial discrimination."
424 U.S. at 424 U. S. 764 (emphasis added).
Neither does it suffice to rely on the District Court's remedial authority under §§ 1981 and 1983. Under those sections, relief is authorized only when there is proof or admission of intentional discrimination. Washington v. Davis,426 U. S. 229 (1976); General Building Contractors Assn. v. Pennsylvania,458 U. S. 375 (1982). Neither precondition was satisfied here.
The Court of Appeals also suggested that, under United States v. Swift & Co.,286 U. S. 106, 286 U. S. 114-115 (1932), the decree properly was modified pursuant to the District Court's equity jurisdiction. But Swift cannot be read as authorizing a court to impose a modification of a decree that runs counter to statutory policy, seen 9, supra, here §§ 703(h) and 706(g) of Title VII.
JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concurring.
The various views presented in the opinions in these cases reflect the unusual procedural posture of the cases and the difficulties inherent in allocating the burdens of recession and fiscal austerity. I concur in the Court's treatment of these
difficult issues, and write separately to reflect my understanding of what the Court holds today.
To appreciate the Court's disposition of the mootness issue, it is necessary to place these cases in their complete procedural perspective. The parties agree that the District Court and the Court of Appeals were presented with a "case or controversy" in every sense contemplated by Art. III of the Constitution. Respondents, as trial plaintiffs, initiated the dispute, asking the District Court preliminarily to enjoin the City from reducing the percentage of minority employees in various job classifications within the Fire Department. Petitioners actively opposed that motion, arguing that respondents had waived any right to such relief in the consent decree itself and, in any event, that the reductions in force were bona fide applications of the city-wide seniority system. When the District Court held against them, petitioners followed the usual course of obeying the injunction and prosecuting an appeal. They were, however, unsuccessful on that appeal.
Respondents now claim that the cases have become moot on certiorari to this Court. The recession is over, the employees who were laid off or demoted have been restored to their former jobs, and petitioners apparently have no current need to make seniority-based layoffs. The res judicata effects of the District Court's order can be eliminated by the Court's usual practice of vacating the decision below and remanding with instructions to dismiss. See United States v. Munsingwear, Inc.,340 U. S. 36, 340 U. S. 39 (1950). Thus, respondents conclude that the validity of the preliminary injunction is no longer an issue of practical significance, and the cases can be dismissed as moot. See Brief for Respondents 26-28.
I agree with the Court that petitioners and respondents continue to wage a controversy that would not be resolved by merely vacating the preliminary injunction. As a result of
the District Court's order, several black employees have more seniority for purposes of future job decisions and entitlements than they otherwise would have under the City's seniority system. This added seniority gives them an increased expectation of future promotion, an increased priority in bidding on certain jobs and job transfers, and an increased protection from future layoffs. These individuals, who are members of the respondent class, have not waived their increased seniority benefits. Therefore, petitioners have a significant interest in determining those individuals' claims in the very litigation in which they were originally won. As the Court of Appeals noted, if petitioner-employer does not vigorously defend the implementation of its seniority system, it will have to cope with deterioration in employee morale, labor unrest, and reduced productivity. See 679 F.2d 541, 555, and n. 12 (CA6 1982); see also Ford Motor Co. v. EEOC,458 U. S. 219, 458 U. S. 229 (1982). Likewise, if petitioner-union accedes to discriminatory employment actions, it will lose both the confidence of its members and bargaining leverage in the determination of who should ultimately bear the burden of the past (and future) fiscal shortages. See ante at 467 U. S. 571, and n. 5. Perhaps this explains why, in respondents' words,
"the city and union have expended substantial time and effort . . . in [an] appeal which can win no possible relief for the individuals on whose behalf it has ostensibly been pursued."
Brief for Respondents 44.
When collateral effects of a dispute remain and continue to affect the relationship of litigants, [Footnote 2/1] the case is not moot.
See, e.g., Franks v. Bowman Transportation Co.,424 U. S. 747, 424 U. S. 755-757 (1976); Super Tire Engineering Co. v. McCorkle,416 U. S. 115, 416 U. S. 121-125 (1974); Gray v. Sanders,372 U. S. 368, 372 U. S. 375-376 (1963). In such cases, the Court does not hesitate to provide trial defendants with "a definitive disposition of their objections" on appeal, Pasadena City Bd. of Education v. Spangler,427 U. S. 424, 427 U. S. 440 (1976), because vacating the res judicata effects of the decision would not bring the controversy to a close. See Note, Mootness on Appeal in the Supreme Court, 83 Harv.L.Rev. 1672, 1677-1687 (1970). As the Court wisely notes,
"[litigants] cannot invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court . . . and then insulate [the effects of that court's] ruling from appellate review by claiming that they are no longer interested in the matter."
Ante at 467 U. S. 572.
My understanding of the Court's holding on the merits also is aided by a review of the place this case takes in the history of the parties' litigation. The City entered into a consent decree with respondents, agreeing to certain hiring and promotional goals, backpay awards, and individual promotions. The City was party both to another consent decree and to an agreement with the union concerning application of the seniority system at the time it made these concessions. Respondents did not seek the union's participation in the negotiation of their consent decree with the City, did not include the seniority system as a subject of negotiation, and waived all rights to seek further relief. When the current dispute arose, the District Court rejected respondents' allegation that the seniority system had been adopted or applied with any discriminatory animus. It held, however, that "modification" was appropriate because of the seniority system's discriminatory effects. Under these circumstances, the Court's
conclusion that the District Court had no authority to order maintenance of racial percentages in the Department is, in my view, inescapable.
Had respondents presented a plausible case of discriminatory animus in the adoption or application of the seniority system, then the Court would be hard pressed to consider entry of the preliminary injunction an abuse of discretion. But that is not what happened here. To the contrary, the District Court rejected the claim of discriminatory animus, and the Court of Appeals did not disagree. Furthermore, the District Court's erroneous conclusion to the contrary, maintenance of racial balance in the Department could not be justified as a correction of an employment policy with an unlawful disproportionate impact. Title VII affirmatively protects bona fide seniority systems, including those with discriminatory effects on minorities. See American Tobacco Co. v. Patterson,456 U. S. 63, 456 U. S. 65 (1982); Teamsters v. United States,431 U. S. 324, 431 U. S. 352 (1977).
Therefore, the preliminary injunction could only be justified as a reasonable interpretation of the consent decree or as a permissible exercise of the District Court's authority to modify that consent decree. Neither justification was present here. For the reasons stated by the Court, ante at 467 U. S. 574-576, and JUSTICE STEVENS, post at 467 U. S. 591, the consent decree itself cannot fairly be interpreted to bar use of the seniority policy or to require maintenance of racial balances previously achieved in the event layoffs became necessary. Nor can a district court unilaterally modify a consent decree to adjust racial imbalances or to provide retroactive relief that abrogates legitimate expectations of other employees and applicants. See Steelworkers v. Weber,443 U. S. 193, 443 U. S. 205-207 (1979); Pasadena City Bd. of Education v. Spangler, supra, at 427 U. S. 436-438. A court may not grant preferential treatment to any individual or group simply because the group to which they belong is adversely affected by a bona fide seniority system. Rather, a court may use its remedial powers, including its power to modify a consent decree, only to prevent
future violations and to compensate identified victims of unlawful discrimination. See Teamsters v. United States, supra, at 431 U. S. 367-371; Millken v. Bradley,433 U. S. 267, 433 U. S. 280-281 (1977); see also University of California Regents v. Bakke,438 U. S. 265, 438 U. S. 307-309, and n. 44 (1978) (POWELL, J., announcing the judgment of the Court). Even when its remedial powers are properly invoked, a district court may award preferential treatment only after carefully balancing the competing interests of discriminatees, innocent employees, and the employer. See Ford Motor Co. v. EEOC, 458 U.S. at 458 U. S. 239-240; Teamsters v. United States, supra, at 431 U. S. 371-376. In short, no matter how significant the change in circumstance, a district court cannot unilaterally modify a consent decree to adjust racial balances in the way the District Court did here. [Footnote 2/2]
To be sure, in 1980, respondents could have gone to trial and established illegal discrimination in the Department's past hiring practices, identified its specific victims, and possibly obtained retroactive seniority for those individuals. Alternatively, in 1980, in negotiating the consent decree, respondents could have sought the participation of the union, [Footnote 2/3] negotiated the identities of the specific victims with the union and employer, and possibly obtained limited forms of retroactive relief. But respondents did none of these things. They chose to avoid the costs and hazards of litigating their claims. They negotiated with the employer without inviting the union's participation. They entered into a consent decree
without establishing any specific victim's identity. And, most importantly, they waived their right to seek further relief. To allow respondents to obtain relief properly reserved for only identified victims or to prove their victim status now would undermine the certainty of obligation that is a condition precedent to employers' acceptance of, and unions' consent to, employment discrimination settlements. See Steelworkers v. Weber, supra, at 443 U. S. 211 (BLACKMUN, J., concurring) (employers enter into settlements to avoid backpay responsibilities and to reduce disparate impact claims). Modifications requiring maintenance of racial balance would not encourage valid settlements [Footnote 2/4] of employment discrimination cases. They would impede them. Thus, when the Court states that this preferential relief could not have been awarded even had this case gone to trial, see ante at 467 U. S. 579, it is holding respondents to the bargain they struck during the consent decree negotiations in 1980, and thereby furthering the statutory policy of voluntary settlement. See Carson v. American Brands, Inc.,450 U. S. 79, 450 U. S. 88, and n. 14 (1981).
In short, the Court effectively applies the criteria traditionally applicable to the review of preliminary injunctions. See Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc.,422 U. S. 922, 422 U. S. 931 (1975). When the Court disapproves the preliminary injunction issued in this litigation, it does so because respondents had no chance of succeeding on the merits of their claim. The District Court had no authority to order the Department to maintain its current racial balance or to provide preferential
treatment to blacks. It therefore abused its discretion. On this understanding, I join the opinion and judgment rendered by the Court today.
This case is distinguishable from University of Texas v. Camenisch,451 U. S. 390 (1981), where the Court found that a petitioner's objections to a preliminary injunction, which required it to pay for the respondent's sign-language interpreter, were moot. In Camenisch, the propriety of issuing the preliminary injunction was really no longer of concern to the parties, and the real issue -- who should pay for the interpreter -- was better handled in a separate proceeding. Id. at 451 U. S. 394-398. In these cases, because the parties are in an ongoing relationship, they have a continuing interest in the propriety of the preliminary relief itself. Camenisch expressly distinguishes cases like these, where the parties retain "a legally cognizable interest in the determination whether the preliminary injunction was properly granted." Id. at 451 U. S. 394; see also id. at 451 U. S. 397, and n. 2.
Unlike the dissenters and JUSTICE STEVENS, I find persuasive the Court's reasons for holding Title VII relevant to analysis of the modification issue, see ante at 467 U. S. 576-577, n. 9, and the Court's application of Title VII's provisions to the facts of the present controversy.
"Absent a judicial determination, . . . the Company . . . cannot alter the collective bargaining agreement without the Union's consent." W. R. Grace & Co. v. Rubber Workers,461 U. S. 757, 461 U. S. 771 (1983). Thus, if innocent employees are to be required to make any sacrifices in the final consent decree, they must be represented and have had full participation rights in the negotiation process.
The policy favoring voluntary settlement does not, of course, countenance unlawful discrimination against existing employees or applicants. See McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co.,427 U. S. 273, 427 U. S. 278-296 (1976) (Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 prohibit discrimination against whites as well as blacks); Steelworkers v. Weber,443 U. S. 193, 443 U. S. 208-209 (1979) (listing attributes that would make affirmative action plan impermissible); cf. id. at 443 U. S. 215 (BLACKMUN, J., concurring) ("[S]eniority is not in issue, because the craft training program is new, and does not involve an abrogation of preexisting seniority rights").
JUSTICE STEVENS, concurring in the judgment.
The District Court's preliminary injunction remains reviewable because of its continuing effect on the city's personnel policies. That injunction states that the city may
"not apply the seniority policy proposed insofar as it will decrease the percentage of black [persons] in the Memphis Fire Department. [Footnote 3/1] "
Thus, if the city faces a need to lay off Fire Department employees in the future, it may not apply its seniority system. I cannot say that the likelihood that the city will once again face the need to lay off Fire Department employees is so remote that the city has no stake in the outcome of this litigation. [Footnote 3/2]
In my judgment, the Court's discussion of Title VII is wholly advisory. These cases involve no issue under Title VII; they involve only the administration of a consent decree. The District Court entered the consent decree on April 25, 1980, after having given all parties, including all of the petitioners in this Court, notice and opportunity to object to its entry. The consent decree, like any other final judgment of a district court, was immediately appealable. See Carson v. American Brands, Inc.,450 U. S. 79 (1981). No appeal was taken. Hence, the consent decree became a final judgment binding upon those who had had notice and opportunity to
object; it was and is a legally enforceable obligation. If the consent decree justified the District Court's preliminary injunction, then that injunction should be upheld irrespective of whether Title VII would authorize a similar injunction. [Footnote 3/3] Therefore, what governs these cases is not Title VII, but the consent decree. [Footnote 3/4]
There are two ways in which the District Court's injunction could be justified. The first is as a construction of the consent decree. If the District Court had indicated that it was merely enforcing the terms of the consent decree, and had given some indication of what portion of that decree it was interpreting, I might be hard-pressed to consider the entry of the injunction an abuse of discretion. However, the District Court never stated that it was construing the decree, nor did it provide even a rough indication of the portion of the decree on which it relied. There is simply nothing in the record to justify the conclusion that the injunction was based on a reasoned construction of the consent decree. [Footnote 3/5]
The second justification that could exist for the injunction is that the District Court entered it based on a likelihood that it would modify the decree, or as an actual modification of the decree. [Footnote 3/6] As JUSTICE BLACKMUN explains, post at 467 U. S. 607, 467 U. S. 610-611, modification would have been appropriate if respondents had demonstrated the presence of changed circumstances. However, the only "circumstance" found by the District Court was that the city's proposed layoffs would have an adverse effect on the level of black employment in the fire department. App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 82-206, pp. A73-A76. This was not a "changed" circumstance; the percentage of blacks employed by the Memphis Fire Department at the time the decree was entered meant that, even then, it was apparent that any future seniority-based layoffs would have an adverse effect on blacks. Thus, the finding made by the District Court was clearly insufficient to support a modification of the consent decree, or a likelihood thereof.
Accordingly, because I conclude that the District Court abused its discretion in entering the preliminary injunction at issue here, I concur in the judgment.
In this respect, this litigation is similar to Los Angeles v. Lyons,461 U. S. 95, 461 U. S. 100-101 (1983). There, an injunction against the use of chokeholds by the city's police department was held not to be moot despite the fact that the police board had instituted a voluntary moratorium of indefinite duration on chokeholds, since the likelihood that the city might one day wish to return to its former policy was not so remote as to moot the case. See also Carroll v. Princess Anne,393 U. S. 175, 393 U. S. 178-179 (1968).
The Court seems to suggest that a consent decree cannot authorize anything that would not constitute permissible relief under Title VII. Ante at 467 U. S. 578-579. I share JUSTICE BLACKMUN's doubts as to whether this is the correct test. See post at 467 U. S. 611, n. 9, 467 U. S. 614-616. The provisions on which the Court relies, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(h) and 2000e-5(g), merely state that certain seniority arrangements do not violate Title VII, and define the limits of appropriate relief for a Title VII violation, respectively. They do not place any limitations on what the parties can agree to in a consent decree. The Court does not suggest that any other statutory provision was violated by the District Court. The Court itself acknowledges that the administration of a consent decree must be tested by the four corners of the decree, and not by what might have been ordered had respondents prevailed on the merits, ante at 467 U. S. 574, which makes its subsequent discussion of Title VII all the more puzzling.
If the decree had been predicated on a finding that the city had violated Title VII, the remedial policies underlying that Act might be relevant, at least as an aid to construction of the decree. But since the settlement expressly disavowed any such finding, the Court's exposition of Title VII law is unnecessary.
JUSTICE BLACKMUN explains, post at 467 U. S. 607-610, how the consent decree could be construed to justify the injunction. I find nothing in the record indicating that this is the theory the District Court actually employed. While I recognize that preliminary injunction proceedings are often harried affairs, and that district courts need substantial leeway in resolving them, it nevertheless remains the case that there must be something in the record explaining the reasoning of the District Court before it may be affirmed. That is the purpose of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(d)'s requirement that "[e]very order granting an injunction and every restraining order shall set forth the reasons for its issuance. . . ."
It seems likely that this second justification was the actual basis for the entry of the injunction. The District Court's phrasing of the question it faced was whether "it should exercise its authority to modify a Consent Decree," App. to Pet. for Cert. A73. The focus of the Court of Appeals' opinion reviewing the preliminary injunction was the "three grounds upon which a consent decree may later be modified," 679 F.2d 541, 560 (CA6 1981). Most important, the practical effect of the District Court's action indicates that it should be treated as a modification. Until it is reviewed, it will effectively govern the procedure that the city must follow in any future layoffs, and that procedure is significantly different from the seniority system in effect when the consent decree was negotiated and signed.
JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
Today's opinion is troubling less for the law it creates than for the law it ignores. The issues in these cases arose out of a preliminary injunction that prevented the city of Memphis from conducting a particular layoff in a particular manner. Because that layoff has ended, the preliminary injunction no longer restrains any action that the city wishes to take. The Court nevertheless rejects respondents' claim that these cases are moot because the Court concludes that there are continuing effects from the preliminary injunction and that these create a continuing controversy. The Court appears oblivious, however, to the fact that any continuing legal consequences of the preliminary injunction would be erased by simply vacating the Court of Appeals' judgment, which is this Court's longstanding practice with cases that become moot.
Having improperly asserted jurisdiction, the Court then ignores the proper standard of review. The District Court's action was a preliminary injunction reviewable only on an abuse of discretion standard; the Court treats the action as a permanent injunction and decides the merits, even though the District Court has not yet had an opportunity to do so. On the merits, the Court ignores the specific facts of these cases that make inapplicable the decisions on which it relies. Because, in my view, the Court's decision is demonstrably in error, I respectfully dissent.
"The usual rule in federal cases is that an actual controversy must exist at stages of appellate or certiorari review, and not simply at the date the action is initiated."
Roe v. Wade,410 U. S. 113, 410 U. S. 125 (1973). In the absence of a live controversy, the constitutional requirement of a "case" or "controversy," see U.S.Const., Art. III, deprives a federal court of jurisdiction. Accordingly, a case, although live at the start, becomes moot when intervening acts destroy the
interest of a party to the adjudication. DeFunis v. Odegaard,416 U. S. 312 (1974). In such a situation, the federal practice is to vacate the judgment and remand the case with a direction to dismiss. United States v. Munsingwear, Inc.,340 U. S. 36, 340 U. S. 39 (1950).
Application of these principles to the present cases is straightforward. The controversy underlying the suits is whether the city of Memphis' proposed layoff plan violated the 1980 consent decree. The District Court granted a preliminary injunction limiting the proportion of Negroes that the city could lay off as part of its efforts to solve its fiscal problems. Because of the injunction, the city chose instead to reduce its workforce according to a modified layoff plan under which some whites were laid off despite their greater seniority over the blacks protected by the preliminary injunction. Since the preliminary injunction was entered, however, the layoffs all have terminated and the city has taken back every one of the workers laid off pursuant to the modified plan. Accordingly, the preliminary injunction no longer restrains the city's conduct, and the adverse relationship between the opposing parties concerning its propriety is gone. A ruling in this situation thus becomes wholly advisory, and ignores the basic duty of this Court
"to decide actual controversies by a judgment which can be carried into effect, and not to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it."
Oil Workers v. Missouri,361 U. S. 363, 361 U. S. 367 (1960), quoting Mills v. Green,159 U. S. 651, 159 U. S. 653 (1895). The proper disposition, therefore, is to vacate the judgment and remand the cases with directions to dismiss them as moot.
The purpose of vacating a judgment when it becomes moot while awaiting review is to return the legal relationships of the parties to their status prior to initiation of the suit. The Court explained in Munsingwear that vacating a judgment
"clears the path for future relitigation of the issues between the parties and eliminates a judgment, review of which was prevented through happenstance. When that procedure is followed, the rights of all parties are preserved; none is prejudiced by a decision which in the statutory scheme was only preliminary."
340 U.S. at 340 U. S. 40. Were the Court to follow this procedure in these cases, as clearly it should, the legal rights of the parties would return to their status prior to entry of the preliminary injunction. In the event that future layoffs became necessary, respondents would have to seek a new injunction based on the facts presented by the new layoffs, and petitioners could oppose the new injunction on any and all grounds, including arguments similar to those made in these cases.
Struggling to find a controversy on which to base its jurisdiction, the Court offers a variety of theories as to why these cases remain live. First, it briefly suggests that the cases are not moot because the preliminary injunction continues in effect, and would apply in the event of a future layoff. My fundamental disagreement with this contention is that it incorrectly interprets the preliminary injunction. [Footnote 4/1] Even if the
Court's interpretation of the preliminary injunction is correct, however, it is nonetheless true that, if the judgment in these cases were vacated, the preliminary injunction would not apply to a future layoff.
The Court's second argument against mootness is remarkable. The Court states that, even if the preliminary injunction applies only to the 1981 layoffs, the "rulings" that formed the "predicate" for the preliminary injunction "remain undisturbed." Ante at 467 U. S. 569. The Court then states:
"[W]e see no indication that respondents concede in urging mootness that these rulings were in error, and should be reversed. To the contrary, they continue to defend them. Unless overturned, these rulings would require the City to obey the modified consent decree and to disregard its seniority agreement in making future layoffs."
Ibid. Two aspects of this argument provoke comment. It is readily apparent that vacating the judgment in these cases would also vacate whatever "rulings" formed the "predicate" for that judgment. There simply is no such thing as a "ruling" that has a life independent of the judgment in these cases, and that would bind the city in a future layoff if the judgment in these cases were vacated. The Court's argument, therefore, is nothing more than an oxymoronic suggestion that the judgment would somehow have a res judicata effect even if it was vacated -- a complete contradiction in terms.
Moreover, and equally remarkable, is the notion that respondents must concede that the rulings below were in error before they can argue that the cases are moot. To my knowledge, there is nothing in this Court's mootness doctrine that requires a party urging mootness to concede the lack of
merit in his case. Indeed, a central purpose of mootness doctrine is to avoid an unnecessary ruling on the merits.
The Court's third argument against mootness focuses on the wages and seniority lost by white employees during the period of their layoffs -- and it is undisputed that some such pay and seniority were lost. The Court does not suggest, however, that its decision today will provide the affected workers with any backpay or seniority. It is clear that any such backpay or retroactive seniority for laid-off workers would have to come from the city, not from respondents. [Footnote 4/2] But the city Fire Department and the union are both petitioners here, not adversaries, and respondents have no interest in defending the city from liability to the union in a separate proceeding. For that reason, these suits involve the wrong adverse parties for resolution of any issues of backpay and seniority.
The Court, nevertheless, suggests that the backpay and seniority issues somehow keep these cases alive despite the absence of an adversarial party. The Court states:
"Unless the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, however, the layoffs and demotions were in accordance with the law, and it would be quite unreasonable to expect the City to pay out money to which the employees had no legal right. Nor would it feel free to respond to the seniority claims of the three white employees who . . . lost competitive seniority in relation to all other individuals who were not laid off, including those minority employees who would have been laid off but for the injunction. On the other hand, if the Court
of Appeals' judgment is reversed, the City would be free to take a wholly different position with respect to backpay and seniority."
Ante at 467 U. S. 571 (footnote omitted).
Although the artful ambiguity of this passage renders it capable of several interpretations, none of them provides a basis on which to conclude that these cases are not moot. The Court may mean to suggest that the city has no legal obligation to provide backpay and retroactive seniority, but that it might voluntarily do so if this Court opines that the preliminary injunction was improper. A decision in that situation, however, would be an advisory opinion in the full sense -- it would neither require nor permit the city to do anything that it cannot do already.
It is more likely that the Court means one of two other things. The Court may mean that, if the Court of Appeals' decision is left standing, it would have some kind of preclusive effect in a suit for backpay and retroactive seniority brought by the union against the city. Alternatively, the Court may mean that, if the city sought voluntarily to give union members the backpay and retroactive seniority that they lost, the respondents could invoke the preliminary injunction to prohibit the city from doing so.
Even if both of these notions were correct -- which they clearly are not, see infra at 467 U. S. 599-601, and nn. 3, 4, and 5 -- they are irrelevant to the question of mootness. The union has not filed a suit for backpay or seniority, nor has the preliminary injunction prevented the city from awarding retroactive seniority to the laid-off workers. Accordingly, these issues simply are not in the cases before the Court, and have no bearing on the question of mootness. In Oil Workers v. Missouri,361 U. S. 363 (1960), for example, the Court declined to review an expired antistrike injunction issued pursuant to an allegedly unconstitutional state statute, even though the challenged statute also governed a monetary penalty claim pending in state court against the union. The Court stated:
"'[T]hat suit is not before us. We have not
now jurisdiction of it or its issues. Our power only extends over and is limited by the conditions of the case now before us.'"
Id. at 361 U. S. 370 (emphasis added), quoting American Book Co. v. Kansas ex rel. Nichols,193 U. S. 49, 193 U. S. 52 (1904). By vacating this judgment as moot, the Court would ensure that, in the event that a controversy over backpay and retroactive seniority should arise, the parties in these cases could relitigate any issues concerning the propriety of the preliminary injunction as it relates to that controversy. Thus, the Court today simply has its reasoning backwards. It pretends that these cases present a live controversy because the judgment in them might affect future litigation; yet the Court's longstanding practice of vacating moot judgments is designed precisely to prevent that result.
By going beyond the reach of the Court's Art. III powers, today's decision improperly provides an advisory opinion for the city and the union. With regard to the city's ability to give retroactive seniority and backpay to laid-off workers, respondents concede that neither the preliminary injunction nor the Court of Appeals' judgment prohibits the city from taking such action, [Footnote 4/3] Brief for Respondents 30-31. The city has not claimed any confusion over its ability to make such an award; it simply has chosen not to do so. Thus, the opinion today provides the city with a decision to ensure that it can do something that it has not claimed any interest in doing, and
has not been prevented from doing, and that respondents concede they have no way of stopping.
With regard to the union, the Court's imagined controversy is even more hypothetical. The Court concedes that there is doubt whether, in fact, the union possesses any enforceable contractual rights that could form the basis of a contract claim by the union against the city. [Footnote 4/4] It is also unclear how the propriety of the preliminary injunction would affect the city's defenses in such a suit. [Footnote 4/5] In any event, no such
claims have been filed. Thus, today's decision is provided on the theory that it might affect a defense that the city has not asserted, in a suit that the union has not brought, to enforce contractual rights that may not exist.
Because there is now no justiciable controversy in these cases, today's decision by the Court is an improper exercise of judicial power. It is not my purpose in dissent to parallel the Court's error and speculate on the appropriate disposition of these nonjusticiable cases. In arriving at its result, however, the Court's analysis is misleading in many ways, and in other ways it is simply in error. Accordingly, it is important to note the Court's unexplained departures from precedent and from the record.
Assuming, arguendo, that these cases are justiciable, then the only question before the Court is the validity of a preliminary injunction that prevented the city from conducting layoffs that would have reduced the number of Negroes in certain job categories within the Memphis Fire Department. In granting such relief, the District Court was required to consider respondents' likelihood of success on the merits, the balance of irreparable harm to the parties, and whether the injunction would be in the public interest. University of Texas v. Camenisch,451 U. S. 390, 451 U. S. 392 (1981); Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc.,422 U. S. 922, 422 U. S. 931 (1975). The question before a reviewing court "is simply whether the issuance of the injunction, in the light of the applicable standard, constituted an abuse of discretion." Id. at 422 U. S. 932.
The Court has chosen to answer a different question. The Court's opinion does not mention the standard of review for a preliminary injunction, and does not apply that standard to
these cases. Instead, the Court treats the cases as if they involved a permanent injunction, and addresses the question whether the city's proposed layoffs violated the consent decree. [Footnote 4/6] That issue was never resolved in the District Court, because the city did not press for a final decision on the merits. The issue, therefore, is not properly before this Court. After taking jurisdiction over a controversy that no longer exists, the Court reviews a decision that was never made. In so doing, the Court does precisely what, in Camenisch, supra, it unanimously concluded was error. Camenisch involved a suit in which a deaf student obtained a preliminary injunction requiring that the University of Texas pay for an interpreter to assist him in his studies. While appeal of the preliminary injunction was pending before the Court of Appeals, the student graduated. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court. In so doing, the appellate court
rejected Camenisch's suggestion that his graduation rendered the case moot because the District Court had required Camenisch to post a bond before granting the preliminary injunction, and there remained the issue whether the University or Camenisch should bear the cost of the interpreter. This Court granted certiorari and vacated and remanded the case to the District Court. The Court explained:
"The Court of Appeals correctly held that the case as a whole is not moot, since, as that court noted, it remains to be decided who should ultimately bear the cost of the interpreter. However, the issue before the Court of Appeals was not who should pay for the interpreter, but rather whether the District Court had abused its discretion in issuing a preliminary injunction requiring the University to pay for him. . . . The two issues are significantly different, since whether the preliminary injunction should have issued depended on the balance of factors [for granting preliminary injunctions], while whether the University should ultimately bear the cost of the interpreter depends on a final resolution of the merits of Camenisch's case."
"* * * *"
"Until [a trial on the merits] has taken place, it would be inappropriate for this Court to intimate any view on the merits of the lawsuit."
451 U.S. at 451 U. S. 393, 398 (emphasis added).
Camenisch makes clear that a determination of a party's entitlement to a preliminary injunction is a separate issue from the determination of the merits of the party's underlying legal claim, and that a reviewing court should not confuse the two. Even if the issues presented by the preliminary injunction in these cases were not moot, therefore, the only issue before this Court would be the propriety of preliminary injunctive relief. [Footnote 4/7] See also New York State Liquor Authority
v. Bellanca,452 U. S. 714, 452 U. S. 716 (1981); Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc., 422 U.S. at 422 U. S. 931-932, 422 U. S. 934. It is true, of course, that the District Court and the Court of Appeals had to make a preliminary evaluation of respondents' likelihood of success on the merits, but that evaluation provides no basis for deciding the merits:
"Since Camenisch's likelihood of success on the merits was one of the factors the District Court and the Court of Appeals considered in granting Camenisch a preliminary injunction, it might be suggested that their decisions were tantamount to decisions on the underlying merits, and thus that the preliminary injunction issue is not truly moot. . . . This reasoning fails, however, because it improperly equates 'likelihood of success' with 'success,' and, what is more important, because it ignores the significant procedural differences between preliminary and permanent injunctions."
451 U.S. at 451 U. S. 394 (emphasis added).
After ignoring the appropriate standard of review, the Court then focuses on an issue that is not in these cases. It begins its analysis by stating that the "issue at the heart of this case" is the District Court's power to "ente[r] an injunction requiring white employees to be laid off." Ante at 467 U. S. 572. That statement, with all respect, is simply incorrect. On its face, the preliminary injunction prohibited the city from conducting layoffs in accordance with its seniority system "insofar as it will decrease the percentage of blacks [presently employed]" in certain job categories. App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 82-229, p. A80. The preliminary injunction did not require the city to lay off any white employees at all. In fact, several parties interested in the suit, including the union, attempted to persuade the city to avoid layoffs entirely by reducing the working hours of all Fire Department employees. See Brief for Respondents 73. Thus, although the District Court order reduced the city's options in meeting its fiscal crisis, it did not require the dismissal of white employees. The choice of a modified layoff plan remained that of the city.
This factual detail is important, because it makes clear that the preliminary injunction did not abrogate the contractual rights of white employees. If the modified layoff plan proposed by the city to comply with the District Court's order abrogated contractual rights of the union, those rights remained enforceable. This Court recognized this principle just last Term in W. R. Grace & Co. v. Rubber Workers,461 U. S. 757 (1983), which presented a situation remarkably similar to the one here. In that case, an employer sought to conduct layoffs and faced a conflict between a Title VII conciliation agreement protecting its female employees and the seniority rights of its male employees. The employer chose to lay off male employees, who filed grievances and obtained awards for the violation of their contractual rights. In upholding the awards, this Court explained that the
dilemma faced by the employer did not render the male employees' contractual rights unenforceable:
"Given the Company's desire to reduce its workforce, it is undeniable that the Company was faced with a dilemma: it could follow the conciliation agreement as mandated by the District Court and risk liability under the collective bargaining agreement, or it could follow the bargaining agreement and risk both a contempt citation and Title VII liability. The dilemma, however, was of the Company's own making. The Company committed itself voluntarily to two conflicting contractual obligations."
Id. at 461 U. S. 767. It is clear, therefore, that the correctness of the District Court's interpretation of the decree is irrelevant with respect to the enforceability of the union's contractual rights; those rights remained enforceable regardless of whether the city had an obligation not to lay off blacks. [Footnote 4/8] The question in these cases remains whether the District Court's authority pursuant to the consent decree enabled it to enjoin a layoff of more than a certain number of blacks. The issue is not whether the District Court could require the city to lay off whites, or whether the District Court could abrogate contractual rights of white firefighters.
Assuming, as the Court erroneously does, that the District Court entered a permanent injunction, the question on review then would be whether the District Court had authority to enter it. In affirming the District Court, the Court of Appeals suggested at least two grounds on which respondents might have prevailed on the merits.
The first of these derives from the contractual characteristics of a consent decree. Because a consent decree "is to be construed for enforcement purposes basically as a contract," United States v. ITT Continental Baking Co.,420 U. S. 223, 420 U. S. 238 (1975), respondents had the right to specific performance of the terms of the decree. If the proposed layoffs violated those terms, the District Court could issue an injunction requiring compliance with them. Alternatively, the Court of Appeals noted that a court of equity has inherent power to modify a consent decree in light of changed circumstances. 679 F.2d 541, 560-561 (CA6 1982). Thus, if respondents could show that changed circumstances justified modification of the decree, the District Court would have authority to make such a change.
Respondents based their request for injunctive relief primarily on the first of these grounds, and the Court's analysis of this issue is unpersuasive. The District Court's authority to enforce the terms and purposes of the consent decree was expressly reserved in
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