On April 12, 1974, the United States of America, in the name of the Secretary of Labor and the EEOC, filed this employment discrimination case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division, against nine steel companies and the United Steelworkers of America. The United States sought permanent injunctive relief and costs, claiming that the Defendants had engaged in a pattern and practice of discriminating against minority and female applicants and employees.
Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the defendants had hired minority and female candidates for less desirable and generally lower-paying jobs with the least opportunity for advancement and had hired and assigned white males to the more desirable and generally higher-paying jobs with the greatest opportunity for advancement.
On the same day that the complaint was filed, the parties entered two consent decrees with the District Court to establish a nationwide settlement. The first consent decree deals with matters subject to collective bargaining and enjoins the defendants from "discriminating in any aspect of employment on the basis of race, color, sex or national origin and from failing or refusing to fully implement" the substantive relief contained within the decree. The substantive relief can be broken down to three categories: implementation of seniority reforms; establishment of goals to utilize females and minorities in positions they had previously been denied; and back pay to the aggreived persons in the amount of $30,940,000.
The second consent decree dealt with employment matters not subject to collective bargaining agreements. It enjoined the companies from engaging in any practice of unlawful employment discrimination. Furthermore, it required the companies to initiate affirmative programs to encourage the recruitment, hiring, and retention of minority and female applicants.
The consent decree established a mechanism for settling the hundreds of pending charges of employment discrimination brought by employees against the companies covered by the consent decrees. The government and the companies agreed that the government would request stays of proceedings in cases brought by other parties against the covered companies. With respect to cases in which the district court had already entered remedial relief, the consent decrees made clear that the parties would seek to have the cases dismissed.
At the administrative level, the EEOC agreed to dismiss claims covered by the consent decrees. These steps were incorporated into the decrees in recognition that they were to serve as the final and comprehensive settlement of charges of unlawful employment discrimination.
After the consent decrees were approved and entered by the District Court, three organizations, four individuals, and six groups of plaintiffs moved to intervene and vacate the decrees. The District Court upheld the validity of the decrees and refused to allow the organizations to intervene in the suit brought against the companies.
The putative intervenors appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The organization that was denied the right to intervene in the initial lawsuit argued that it had an absolute, unconditional right to do so. The Court of Appeals found that "intervention as of right was not conferred in this proceeding by any act of Congress." In support, the Court pointed to the strong judicial policy "against nonexpress private intervention in government enforcement litigation when an adequate private remedy is freely accessible." Furthermore, the Court of Appeals found that nothing in the consent decrees operated to impair or impede the protection of the organizations' interests because the consent decrees did not stand as a res judicata barrier to the organizations filling their own legal claims. Moreover, the District Court did not abuse its discretion by not allowing the organization to permissibly intervene. The Court of Appeals found that "the district court was clearly justified in determining that the interests of the majority of the affected individuals predominated over NOW's interest in further delaying implementation of the decrees' reforms."
In assessing the validity of the consent decrees, the Court of Appeals framed the question as "whether the responsible government agencies may lawfully conciliate and settle by consent decree charges of discrimination cutting across an entire industry in a manner which assures cooperative defendants that they will not face future government lawsuits on those claims, and which accords the defendants the opportunity to offer final satisfaction to aggrieved individuals who are willing to accept tenders of back pay and execute the releases." The court found that the consent decrees were valid. Specifically, with regard to the back pay provisions the court held that "absent a compelling showing that the average of $500 per employee represents nothing but a mere pittance, we think that sum, together with each eligible employee's free option to reject his or her tender and sue for more, especially in light of the injunctive relief which extends to all, amply satisfies any legal requirements with respect to the size of the back pay fund in this consent decree settlement." In response to the appellants' attacks that the government had unlawful abdicated its duty to enforce the anti-discrimination laws by entering into the consent decrees, the Court held that the Government had acted lawful and within its congressionally authorized mandate to settle these types of claims. In short, the Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's holding that the consent decrees were valid and that the parties were not entitled to intervene.
On April 1, 1989 the District Court ordered that the consent decrees were to be vacated on November 1, 1989. As of that date, it appears that the case has been closed.Justin Benson - 10/09/2011