CARSON V. AMERICAN BRANDS, INC., 450 U. S. 79 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Carson v. American Brands, Inc., 450 U.S. 79 (1981)

Carson v. American Brands, Inc.

No. 79-1236

Argued December 10, 1980

Decided February 25, 1981

450 U.S. 79


Petitioners, representing a class of present and former black employees and job applicants, sought injunctive and declaratory relief and damages in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that respondent employer and unions had engaged in racially discriminatory employment practices. The parties negotiated a settlement and jointly moved the District Court to enter a proposed consent decree which would permanently enjoin respondents from discriminating against black employees and would require them to give hiring and seniority preferences to black employees and to fill one-third of certain supervisory positions with qualified blacks. The court denied the motion, holding that, since there was no showing of present or past discrimination, the proposed decree illegally granted racial preferences to the petitioner class, and that, in any event, the decree would be illegal as extending relief to all present and future black employees, not just to actual victims of the alleged discrimination. The Court of Appeals dismissed petitioners' appeal for want of jurisdiction, holding that the District Court's order was not appealable under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1), which permits appeals as of right to the courts of appeals from interlocutory orders of district courts "refusing . . . injunctions."

Held: The District Court's interlocutory order refusing to enter the consent decree was an order "refusing" an "injunction" and was therefore appealable under § 1292(a)(1). Pp. 450 U. S. 83-90.

(a) The order, although not in terms refusing an injunction, had the practical effect of doing so. However, for such an interlocutory order to be immediately appealable under § 1292(a)(1), a litigant must also show that the order might have "serious, perhaps irreparable, consequences," and that the order can be "effectually challenged" only by immediate appeal. Baltimore Contractors, Inc. v. Bodiner, 348 U. S. 176, 348 U. S. 181. Pp. 83-86.

(b) Here, petitioners meet such test. First, they might lose their opportunity to settle their case on the negotiated terms, because a party to a pending settlement might be legally justified in withdrawing its consent to the agreement once trial is held and final judgment entered.

Page 450 U. S. 80

And a second "serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence" of the District Court's order justifying an immediate appeal is that, because petitioners cannot obtain the injunctive relief of an immediate restructuring of respondents' transfer and promotional policies until the proposed consent decree is entered, any further delay in reviewing the propriety of the District Court's refusal to enter the decree might cause them serious or irreparable harm. Pp. 450 U. S. 86-89.

606 F.2d 420, reversed. BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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