University of Michigan Law School
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Case Name In re. Birmingham Reverse Discrimination Employment Litigation (Martin v. Wilks) EE-AL-0109
Docket / Court 84-00903-CV-P-S ( N.D. Ala. )
State/Territory Alabama
Case Type(s) Equal Employment
Case Summary
In the original lawsuit of Martin v. Wilks, several black firefighters brought actions against the City of Birmingham, Alabama, and the Jefferson County Personnel Board in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. They alleged that the defendants engaged in racially ... read more >
In the original lawsuit of Martin v. Wilks, several black firefighters brought actions against the City of Birmingham, Alabama, and the Jefferson County Personnel Board in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. They alleged that the defendants engaged in racially discriminatory hiring and promotion practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal law. Consent decrees were eventually entered that included goals for hiring blacks as firefighters and for promoting them. The district court retained jurisdiction over the decrees.

Seven white firefighters subsequently brought suit against the same defendants, alleging that they were being denied promotions in favor of less qualified blacks in violation of Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They argued that the defendants were making promotion decisions on the basis of race in reliance on the consent decrees, which constituted impermissible racial discrimination. The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief against enforcement of the decrees. The City and the Board admitted making “numerous race conscious promotion and employment decisions” but claimed that the promotions were lawful because they were made pursuant to the decrees.

The defendants then moved to dismiss the reverse discrimination case as impermissible collateral attacks. On December 15, 1987, Judge Tjoflat held that individual firefighters were not parties to the consent decrees and were not precluded by the decrees from bringing an independent lawsuit alleging unlawful “reverse discrimination.” 833 F.2d 1492 (11th Cir. 1987). The Supreme Court affirmed the Eleventh Circuit’s judgment. 490 U.S. 75 (1989).

In 1991, more than ten years after the City consent decree was entered, the District Court for the Northern District of Alabama held a trial on the claim that the City’s use of race when making promotions violated both Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause. The court applied a strict scrutiny review to the decree and found that the City was justified in entering the decree and that the City’s use of race under the decree was “limited and tailored to the relief necessary to overcome the employment effects of past discrimination by the City." 806 F. Supp. 926 (N.C. Ala. 1992). Accordingly, the court denied the firefighters’ claims.

However, the district court at trial did not separately evaluate the Title VII and Equal Protection Clause claims. Instead, the Court of Appeals evaluated the claims separately on May 4, 1994, and reversed the holdings of the district court. With regard to the Title VII claim, Judge Black concluded that the promotion provision of the City’s affirmative action plan unnecessarily trammels the rights of nonblack firefighters by establishing a rigid, arbitrarily selected quota of 50% annual black promotions. As to the Equal Protection Clause claim, Judge Black held that the City did not properly consider efficacy of alternatives to race-based promotional quota system for purposes of determining whether the quota plan was narrowly tailored to accomplish compelling purpose. 20 F.3d 1525 (11th Cir. 1994).

On February 24, 1997, one of the plaintiffs filed a motion to amend complaint but his motion was denied by Judge Sam C. Pointer. On May 15, 1997, several movants moved to intervene but was denied as untimely by Judge Pointer.

From 1998 to 2004, the plaintiffs filed joint stipulations of dismissal one after another pursuant to a settlement agreement and the court dismissed each of their cases with prejudice. The details of the settlement agreement were not made public. There has been no docket activity since 2004 and this case is deemed closed.

Sichun Liu - 01/13/2020

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Race discrimination
Disparate Treatment
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Title VII (including PDA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e
Defendant(s) City of Birmingham, Alabama
Jefferson County Personnel Board
Plaintiff Description Nonblack firefighters employed by the City of Birmingham, Alabama.
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Voluntary Dismissal
Order Duration 1994 - n/a
Filed 1984
Case Closing Year 2004
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing EE-AL-0097 : United States v. Jefferson County (N.D. Ala.)
2:84-cv-903 (N.D. Ala.)
EE-AL-0109-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/19/2004
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Opinion (833 F.2d 1492)
EE-AL-0109-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/15/1987
Source: Westlaw
Appendix to Petitions for a Write of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
EE-AL-0109-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/30/1988
Source: Univ. of Michigan Law Library
[Supreme Court Opinion] (490 U.S. 755)
EE-AL-0109-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/12/1989
Source: Justia
Opinion (806 F.Supp. 926) (N.D. Ala.)
EE-AL-0109-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 08/14/1992
Source: Westlaw
Opinion (20 F.3d 1525)
EE-AL-0109-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/04/1994
Source: Westlaw
show all people docs
Judges Anderson, Robert Lanier III (Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
Black, Susan Harrell (M.D. Fla., Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
Coogler, L. Scott (N.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
Edmondson, James Larry (Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
Henderson, Albert John (N.D. Ga., Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
EE-AL-0109-0003 | EE-AL-0109-0006
Pointer, Sam Clyde Jr. (N.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
EE-AL-0109-0002 | EE-AL-0109-0005
Rehnquist, William Hubbs (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Tjoflat, Gerald Bard (M.D. Fla., Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Alexander, James P (Alabama) show/hide docs
Angus, James S (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Battle, Laveeda Morgan (Alabama) show/hide docs
Coleman, Ralph (New York) show/hide docs
Fitzpatrick , Raymond P. Jr. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Joffe, Robert (New York) show/hide docs
Kaplan, Mathew (New York) show/hide docs
Kent, Ronald H Jr. (Alabama) show/hide docs
McElheny, Terry (Alabama) show/hide docs
Quinn, C. Michael (Alabama) show/hide docs
Reeves, Susan W (Alabama) show/hide docs
Seymour, Richard Talbot (New York) show/hide docs
Spitz, Stephen L (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Stewart, Thomas L (Alabama) show/hide docs
Thawley, Barbara E (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Turner, James P. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Wagner, Charles S. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Walker, Marion Francis (Alabama) show/hide docs
Wilson, Rowan D (New York) show/hide docs
Yuengert, Anne R (Alabama) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Boyd, David R. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Coyne, Leslie Allen (Alabama) show/hide docs
Dettling, Aaron L. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Waldrep, Charlie D. (Alabama) show/hide docs

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