COOPER V. FRB OF RICHMOND, 467 U. S. 867 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cooper v. FRB of Richmond, 467 U.S. 867 (1984)

Cooper v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

No. 83-185

Argued March 19, 1984

Decided June 25, 1984

467 U.S. 867


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought an action in Federal District Court against respondent Federal Reserve Bank, alleging that one of respondent's branches (the Bank) violated § 703(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by engaging in employment discrimination based on race during a specified time period. Subsequently, four of the Bank's employees (the Cooper petitioners) were allowed to intervene as plaintiffs, and they alleged that the Bank's employment practices violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981, as well as Title VII, and that they could adequately represent a class of black employees against whom the Bank had discriminated. The District Court then certified the class pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) and (3), and ordered that notice be given to the class members. Among the recipients of the notice were the Baxter petitioners. At the trial, both the Cooper petitioners and the Baxter petitioners testified, and the District Court held that the Bank had engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination with respect to employees in certain specified pay grades, but not with respect to employees above those grades, and found that the Bank had discriminated against two of the Cooper petitioners, but not against the others. Thereafter, the Baxter petitioners moved to intervene, but the District Court denied the motion on the ground, as to one petitioner, that since she was a member of the class to which relief had been ordered, her rights would be protected in the later relief stage of the proceedings, and, as to the other petitioners, on the ground that they were employed in jobs above the specified grades for which relief would be granted. These latter Baxter petitioners then filed a separate action against the Bank in the District Court, alleging that each of them had been denied a promotion because of their race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The District Court denied the Bank's motion to dismiss but certified its order for interlocutory appeal, which was then consolidated with the Bank's pending appeal in the class action. The Court of Appeals reversed on the merits in the class action, holding that there was insufficient evidence to establish a pattern or practice of racial discrimination in the specified grades, and that none of the Cooper petitioners had been discriminated against. The court further held that, under

Page 467 U. S. 868

the doctrine of res judicata, the judgment in the class action precluded the Baxter petitioners from maintaining their individual claims against the Bank.

Held: The Baxter petitioners are not precluded from maintaining their separate action against the Bank. While the Court of Appeals was correct in generally concluding that the Baxter petitioners, as members of the class represented in the class action, were bound by the adverse judgment in that action, the court erred on the preclusive effect it attached to that judgment. The judgment bars the class members from bringing another class action against the Bank alleging a pattern or practice of racial discrimination for the same time period, and precludes the class members in any other litigation with the Bank from relitigating the question whether the Bank engaged in such a pattern or practice of racial discrimination during that same time period. But the judgment is not dispositive of the individual claims of the Baxter petitioners. Assuming that they establish a prima facie case of discrimination, the Bank will be required to articulate a legitimate reason for each of the challenged employment decisions, and, if it meets that burden, the ultimate question regarding motivation in the Baxter petitioners' individual cases will be resolved by the District Court. Permitting the Baxter petitioners to bring a separate action will not frustrate the purposes of Rule 23. To deny such permission would be tantamount to requiring that every class member be permitted to intervene to litigate the merits of his individual claim. Moreover, whether the issues framed by the named parties should be expanded to encompass the individual claims of additional class members is a matter that should be decided in the first instance by the District Court. Nothing in Rule 23 requires that the District Court make a finding with respect to each and every matter on which there is testimony in a class action. Rule 23's purpose in providing a mechanism for the expeditious decision of common questions might be defeated by an attempt to decide a host of individual claims before any common question relating to liability has been resolved adversely to the defendant. Pp. 467 U. S. 874-881.

698 F.2d 633, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., concurred in the judgment. POWELL, J., took no part in the decision of the case.

Page 467 U. S. 869

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