Sheet Metal Workers v. EEOC
478 U.S. 421 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sheet Metal Workers v. EEOC, 478 U.S. 421 (1986)

Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association

v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

No. 84-1656

Argued February 25, 1986

Decided July 2, 1986

478 U.S. 421

Syllabus

In 1975, the District Court found petitioner union and petitioner apprenticeship committee of the union guilty of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against nonwhite workers in recruitment, selection, training, and admission to the union. The court ordered petitioners to end their discriminatory practices, established a 29% nonwhite membership goal, based on the percentage of nonwhites in the relevant labor pool in New York City, to be achieved by July 1981, and also ordered petitioners to implement procedures designed to achieve this goal under the supervision of a court-appointed administrator. Thereafter, the administrator proposed and the court adopted an affirmative action program. The Court of Appeals affirmed, with modifications. On remand, the District Court adopted a revised affirmative action program, and extended the time to meet the 29% membership goal. The Court of Appeals again affirmed. In 1982 and again in 1983, the District Court found petitioners guilty of civil contempt for disobeying the court's earlier orders. The court imposed a fine to be placed in a special Employment, Training, Education, and Recruitment Fund (Fund), to be used to increase nonwhite membership in the union and its apprenticeship program. The District Court ultimately entered an amended affirmative action program establishing a 29.23% nonwhite membership goal to be met by August, 1987. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's contempt findings (with one exception), the contempt remedies, including the Fund order, and the affirmative action program with modifications, holding that the 29.23% nonwhite membership goal was proper, and did not violate Title VII or the Constitution.

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

753 F.2d 1172, affirmed.

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III, and VI, concluding that:

1. The District Court did not use incorrect statistical evidence in evaluating petitioners' membership practices. Pp. 478 U. S. 440-442.

Page 478 U. S. 422

2. The contempt fines and Fund order were proper remedies for civil contempt. These sanctions were clearly designed to coerce compliance with the District Court's order, rather than to punish petitioners for their contemptuous conduct, and thus were not criminal contempt citations. Pp. 478 U. S. 442-444.

3. The District Court properly appointed an administrator to supervise petitioners' compliance with the court's orders. In light of the difficulties inherent in monitoring such compliance, and especially petitioners' established record of resistance to prior state and federal court orders, appointment of an administrator was well within the District Court's discretion. While the administrator may interfere with petitioners' membership operations, such "interference" is necessary to put an end to petitioners' discriminatory ways. Pp. 478 U. S. 481-482.

JUSTICE BRENNAN, joined by JUSTICE MARSHALL, JUSTICE BLACKMUN, and JUSTICE STEVENS, concluded in Parts IV, V, and VII that:

1. Section 706(g) of Title VII does not prohibit a court from ordering, in appropriate circumstances, affirmative race-conscious relief, such as the District Court ordered in this case, as a remedy for past discrimination. Pp. 478 U. S. 444-479.

(a) Section 706(g)'s language plainly expresses Congress' intent to vest district courts with broad discretion to award "appropriate" equitable relief to remedy unlawful discrimination. The last sentence of § 706(g), which prohibits a district court from ordering a union to admit an individual who was "refused admission . . . for any reason other than discrimination" does not say that a court may order relief only for actual victims of past discrimination. Rather, the provision addresses only the situation where the plaintiff demonstrates that a union has engaged in unlawful discrimination but the union can show that a particular individual would have been refused admission even in the absence of discrimination. In this case, neither the membership goal nor the Fund order required petitioners to admit to membership individuals who had been refused admission for reasons unrelated to discrimination. Pp. 478 U. S. 445-447.

(b) The availability of affirmative race-conscious relief under § 706 (g) as a remedy for violations of Title VII furthers the broad purposes underlying the statute. In some circumstances, such relief may be the only effective means available to ensure the full enjoyment of the rights protected by Title VII. Pp. 478 U. S. 447-451.

(c) The legislative history does not indicate that Congress intended that affirmative relief under § 706(g) benefit only the identified victims of past discrimination. Opponents of Title VII charged that employers and labor unions would be required to implement racial quotas or preferences to avoid liability under the statute. Supporters insisted that Title VII did not require "racial balancing." The debate in Congress concerning

Page 478 U. S. 423

what Title VII did and did not require culminated in the adoption of § 703(j), which expressly states that the statute does not require an employer or a union to adopt quotas or preferences simply because of racial imbalance. But Congress gave no intimation as to whether such measures would be acceptable as remedies for Title VII violations. An examination of the legislative policy behind Title VII discloses that Congress did not intend to prohibit a court from ordering affirmative action in appropriate circumstances as a remedy for past discrimination. This interpretation of the scope of a district court's remedial power under § 706(g) is confirmed by the contemporaneous interpretation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Justice Department, the two agencies charged with enforcing Title VII, and is also confirmed by the legislative history of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, which amended Title VII by, inter alia, modifying § 706(g) to empower district courts to order "any other equitable relief as the court deems appropriate." Pp. 478 U. S. 452-470.

(d) This Court's prior decisions, such as Teamsters v. United States,431 U. S. 324, Franks v. Bowman Transportation Co.,424 U. S. 747, and Albemarle Paper Co. v. Moody,422 U. S. 405, held only that a court may order relief designed to make individual victims of racial discrimination whole, and did not suggest that individual "make-whole" relief was the only kind of remedy available under the statute. On the contrary, these cases emphasized that a district court's remedial power should be exercised both to eradicate the effects of unlawful discrimination and to make the victims of past discrimination whole. Nor can Firefighters v. Stotts,467 U. S. 561, be properly read to prohibit a court from ordering any kind of affirmative race-conscious relief that might benefit nonvictims. Such a reading would distort § 706(g)'s language and would deprive the courts of an important means of enforcing Title VII's guarantee of equal employment opportunity. Pp. 478 U. S. 470-475.

(e) While § 706(g) does not foreclose a district court from instituting some sorts of racial preferences where necessary to remedy past discrimination, such relief is not always proper. The court should exercise its discretion with an eye toward Congress' concern that affirmative race-conscious measures not be invoked simply to create a racially balanced workforce. In this case, the relief ordered by the District Court was proper. Both that court and the Court of Appeals agreed that the membership goal and Fund order were necessary to remedy petitioners' pervasive and egregious discrimination. The District Court established the membership goal as a means by which it can measure petitioners' compliance with its orders, rather than as a strict racial quota. Moreover, both the membership goal and the Fund order are temporary

Page 478 U. S. 424

measures, and do not unnecessarily trammel the interests of white employees. Pp. 478 U. S. 475-479.

2. The District Court's orders do not violate the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. They were properly and narrowly tailored to further the Government's compelling interest in remedying past discrimination. Pp. 478 U. S. 479-481.

JUSTICE POWELL concluded that:

1. The District Court acted within the remedial authority granted by § 706(g) in establishing the Fund order and numerical goal at issue. Neither Title VII's plain language nor the legislative history supports a view that all remedies must be limited to benefiting actual victims of discrimination. In cases such as this, where there is a history of egregious violations of Title VII, an injunction alone may be insufficient to remedy the violations. Pp. 478 U. S. 483-484.

2. The Fund order and membership goal do not contravene the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The finding of the courts below that petitioners have committed egregious violations of Title VII clearly establishes a compelling governmental interest sufficient to justify the imposition of a racially classified remedy. Moreover, the District Court's remedy is narrowly tailored to the goal of eradicating petitioners' discrimination. The Fund order was carefully structured to vindicate the compelling governmental interests. As to the percentage goal, it is doubtful, given petitioners' history of discrimination, that any other effective remedy was available. The goal was not imposed as a permanent requirement, and was directly related to the percentage of nonwhites in the relevant workforce. Neither the Constitution nor Title VII requires a particular racial balance in the workplace, and, indeed, the Constitution forbids such a requirement if imposed for its own sake. Here, the flexible application of the goal requirement demonstrates that it is not a means to achieve racial balance. Moreover, it does not appear from the record that nonminorities will be burdened directly, if at all. Pp. 478 U. S. 484-489.

BRENNAN, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III, and VI, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in Parts II-A, III, and VI of which O'CONNOR, J., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts IV, V, and VII, in which MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 478 U. S. 483. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 478 U. S. 489. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 478 U. S. 499. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 478 U. S. 500.

Page 478 U. S. 426

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