Cleveland Firefighters for Fair Hiring Practices v. City of Cleveland, 669 F.3d 737 (6th Cir. Ohio 2012)

Facts: Lamont Headen and several other African American residents filed a class action lawsuit against the City of Cleveland in 1973 alleging racial discrimination in the hiring practice for firefighters. At that time African Americans comprised of 40% of the city’s population yet only four percent of the city’s firefighters were African-American.

In 1977, the district court entered a consent decree which required the city to remedy its past discrimination practices by implementing a race-based criteria for each round of firefighter hiring’s that the city conducted. The consent decree remained fundamentally unchanged until 2000, when the decree was amended. While the percentage of minority firefighters in the City’s firefighter department had increased to 26% the court nevertheless amended the decree to require the City to increase that number to at least 33.3 % and to conduct an additional three rounds of firefighter hiring’s where at least one out of every three hires would be a minority applicant. The decree required the city to satisfy these standard no later then by September 29, 2008, leaving discretion with the court to extend that deadline with a showing of “good faith efforts” by the city to attain these goals.

Although the City failed to reach the 33.3% requirement the court found a “good faith” showing by the City in its attempt to satisfy the amended decree. The City opposed the decree extension and noted that the degree that was implemented over thirty years ago was no longer necessary.

The District Court ordered an evidentery hearing as to whether continued judicial monitoring was necessary. Instead the parties presented the court with a proposed amended decree that would extend the previous decree for six more years. The court found the proposal to be unacceptable. The District Court citing to the substantial increase in minority representation in the City’s Fire Department found that “by all accounts, the city has devised and implemented a plan for the recruitment of minority firefighters” and that “the city has currently in place a foundation that will lead to an increase in minority representation.” Therefore an order was entered for an end to the judicial monitoring.

Standard of Review: “Review of a district court’s termination of supervision and jurisdiction over a consent decree is for an abuse of discretionGonzales v. Galvin, 151 F.3d 526, 531 (6th Cir. 1998). “The appellant has the burden of proof on appeal to show that there was no reasonable basis for the district court’s termination order” Id.

Issues:
(1) Did the District Court show an abuse in its discretion when terminating the consent decree?

(2) Can the court lawfully, without violating the constitution extend the decrees’ race-based measures to apply more then 37 years after they were first adopted?

Holding and Analysis:

(1) Yes. A court should not “terminate jurisdiction over the consent decree without first making explicit findings concerning defendants’ compliance with the decree’s goals and specific terms.” Because the district courts findings of the city’s compliances were largely conclusory it was an abuse of discretion to terminate the decree without any factual findings as to whether judicial supervision is still required.

(2) Remand for further factual findings. “Racial classification in consent decrees are subject to strict scrutiny just like any other” Aiken v. City of Memphis, 37 F.3d 1155, 1162 (6th Cir. 1994). In order for this racial classification to pass strict scrutiny it must show that the racial classification serves to remedy that specific past discrimination. In a case like this where the decree has been in place for over 31 years we cannot take for granted that this classification serves as a remedy to the same class of people that were discriminated in 1973.

Judgment: Because an issue of constitutionality trumps all other law we must consider any other issue to that subordinate. Therefore the case is remanded to the district court to determine if extending the decree would violate the constitution.

Briefed By: Simcha Gitelis

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