On September 17, 1997, a group of former and current African-American personnel from the city police department filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and Title VII,
42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq, against the City of Tulsa in the District Court of the Northern District of Oklahoma. The plaintiffs, represented by numerous private counselors, asked the court for injunctive relief alleging that the Tulsa Police Department (TPD) systematically discriminated against African-American employees. Specifically, the plaintiffs contended that the TPD discriminated in its promotions, hiring, training, and retaliatory discharging of employees.
The case began when a single plaintiff filed suit against the City on January 14, 1994. He asked the court for injunctive relief and damages. The Court (Judge Kern) stayed the case in order to facilitate settlement, but an agreement was never reached. On February 14, 1996, the stay was lifted. The plaintiff then motioned for more members to join the case, ultimately resulting in the Court (Judge Holmes) approving a class consisting of all current and future African-American employees of the Tulsa Police Department (TPD). Johnson v. City of Tulsa, 24015151 WL 1 (N.D.O.K. 2003).
According to the Court's opinion from May 12, 2003, the case was effectively stayed for settlement negotiations through the end of 1998, but, when those negotiations failed to result in a settlement, the parties commenced active discovery. From 1998 until 2001, the litigation was hard-fought with several failed settlement attempts, and each of the parties invested countless hours in preparation and incurred millions of dollars in attorney fees and costs. Johnson v. City of Tulsa, 24015151 WL 1 (N.D.O.K. 2003).
Then, on April 1, 2002, a proposed consent decree was filed. Then-Mayor Susan Savage executed the April 2002 Decree on behalf of the City. The incoming mayor, William LaFortune, who took office later that day, had the opportunity to agree to the adoption of the proposed settlement or to reject it at any time on or before noon on Friday, April 5, 2002. After no objections were made, the Court (Judge Holmes) preliminarily approved the settlement. Johnson v. City of Tulsa, 24015151 WL 2 (N.D.O.K. 2003).
On May 2, 2002 the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) moved to intervene in the case. On May 22, 2002, the FOP filed a motion requesting that the Court reject the April 2002 Decree, primarily on the grounds that it violated the FOP's rights as the "exclusive bargaining agent" for all TPD officers. The FOP was the only objector to the April 2002 Decree. Johnson v. City of Tulsa, 24015151 WL 2 (N.D.O.K. 2003).
To complicate matters more, on August 16, 2002, Mayor LaFortune and the City filed a statement withdrawing the City's support for the April 2002 Decree in its current form. Because of the City's withdrawal of support, the Court (Judge Holmes) rejected the decree. Johnson v. City of Tulsa, 24015151 WL 3 (N.D.O.K. 2003).
On December 2, 2002, the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit (Judge Hartz, Judge Briscoe, Judge Lucero), handed down an order denying the FOP for a writ of mandamus against the City.
On December 3, 2002, the plaintiffs and the City filed a second consent decree, and acknowledged within it, that the FOP had not agreed to its terms. Johnson v. City of Tulsa, 24015151 WL 4 (N.D.O.K. 2003). On December 10, 2002, the FOP lodged a formal brief objecting to the proposed settlement decree.
On December 13, 2002, the Court (Judge Holmes) ruled that the FOP did not have a right to reject the settlement and force the litigation to trial. The Court justified this decision by saying the FOP did not have the right to intervene before a settlement was reached without first justifying that its rights were impaired. Johnson v. City of Tulsa, 24015151 WL 5 (N.D.O.K. 2003).
On May 12, 2003, the Court (Judge Holmes) approved the decree. The settlement allowed for all individual claims to be addressed by the Court. It gave back pay and front pay to those who were denied promotions and compensatory damages to those who had been wrongfully terminated. It awarded plaintiffs attorney's fees, and held that both parties protect the decree from third parties (i.e. the FOP). Furthermore, the decree set benchmarks that could be met from a statistical and policy promotion standpoint as to ensure the fair practice of non-discrimination with TPD employees. Johnson v. City of Tulsa, 489 F.3d 1095-1096 (N.D.O.K. 2007).
However, the case was far from over. The plaintiffs sent letters of noncompliance to the court several times, as the independent auditor charged with following the decree's provisions failed to do so, and many statistical benchmarks were not met. As such, these all had to be litigated in court in front of the Judge presiding over compliance. Then, there came the issue over whether the plaintiffs lawyers should be reimbursed for their work in enforcing the decree.
On April 20, 2005, the District Court (Judge Kern) granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs motion to award attorney's fees arising from compliance actions. This decision was appealed.
On July 10, 2007, the United States Court of Appeals of the 10th Circuit (Judge Hartz, Judge Ebel, Judge O'Brien) reversed and remanded the District Courts ruling. Thus, the plaintiff's attorneys were paid, and the case had no further proceedings on the docket as of February 22, 2008. The case is technically still open, and will not be closed until the parties move the Court to do so.Matthew Aibel - 04/03/2008