Justia.com Opinion Summary:
The EEOC alleged that under Product Fabricators' drug policy, Product Fabricators made unlawful medical inquiries of employees, failed to keep confidential their medical information, and discharged a shear operator employee because of his disability and/or as a result of an unlawful application of the drug policy - all in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12112(a). The district court subsequently rejected a proposed decree to ensure compliance with the ADA on the ground that the EEOC did not identify a basis for the court to continue jurisdiction over the case for two years. The court concluded that the district court gave no consideration to the strong preference for settlement agreements as a means of protecting the federal interest in employment discrimination cases, or to the fact that jurisdiction was a usual component of such agreements, in part due to its deterrent effect. The district court also improperly gave significant weight to Product Fabricators' contention that its acts of discrimination were insufficiently widespread to justify continuing jurisdiction in the face of the EEOC's allegations. As a result, the district court did not explain why continuing jurisdiction was not fair, reasonable, and adequate, and thus abused its discretion.Receive FREE Daily Opinion Summaries by Email
Civil Case - Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court's rejection of a proposed consent decree entered between EEOC and Product Fabricators, Inc. to ensure compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act, including a provision for continuing jurisdiction, is reversed. The district court failed to give consideration to the strong preference for settlement agreements and the usual component of continuing jurisdiction, and improperly gave significant weight to Product Fabricators' contention that the acts of discrimination were insufficiently widespread. The district court did not explain why continuing jurisdiction was no fair, reasonable and adequate.
United States Court of Appeals
FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT
Equal Employment Opportunity
* Appeal from the United States
* District Court for the
* District of Minnesota.
Product Fabricators, Inc.,
Submitted: November 14, 2011
Filed: January 31, 2012
Before WOLLMAN, MURPHY, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.
BENTON, Circuit Judge.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Dennis R. Anderson
agreed with Product Fabricators, Inc. to propose a decree to ensure compliance with
the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. Â§Â§ 12101-213; 47 U.S.C. Â§Â§
225, 611. The district court rejected the proposed decree on the ground that the
EEOC did not identify a basis for the court to continue jurisdiction over the case for
two years. Jurisdiction being proper under 28 U.S.C. Â§ 1292(a)(1), this court vacates
For at least 15 years, Product Fabricatorsâ âdrug policyâ required employees
to report to their supervisor when they took any medication causing dizziness or
drowsiness, or otherwise affecting their senses, motor ability, judgment, reflexes, or
ability to perform their jobs. Failure to comply could result in termination.
In September 2007, Anderson, a shear operator, did not work for several days
due to back pain. His doctor said he could return to work âwith no restrictionsâ on
September 17. He returned to work in a position that was less physically strenuous.
On September 18, he left work early, due to a sore back. He did not work the next
two days. On September 20, he reported an injury from September 18, adding he was
medicated while working on the 17th and 18th. On September 21, Product
Fabricators terminated Anderson for violating the drug policy.
The EEOC alleges that under the drug policy, Product Fabricators made
unlawful medical inquiries of employees, failed to keep confidential their medical
information, and discharged Anderson because of his disability and/or as a result of
an unlawful application of the drug policy â all in violation of the ADA. See 42
U.S.C. Â§Â§ 12112(d), 12112(a).
The parties presented a consent decree to the district court, which requested
justification for continuing jurisdiction. After receiving letters from the parties on the
issue, the district court denied the EEOCâs âMotion for Approval of Consent Decree
with Injunctive Relief and Continuing Jurisdiction.â The proposed decree requires
the destruction of records containing unlawfully-obtained medical information within
30 days, annual employee training about the ADA, posting of an agreed-upon notice
to employees, and annual reporting of company compliance and employee complaints
to the EEOC. It also enjoins: an ongoing pattern or practice of medical inquiries that
violate the ADA, further use of medical information collected through those inquiries,
and other forms of disability discrimination and retaliation. The proposed decree
would remain in effect for two years.
This court reviews a district courtâs acceptance or rejection of a proposed
settlement for abuse of discretion. United States v. BP Amoco Oil PLC, 277 F.3d
1012, 1019 (8th Cir. 2002). An abuse of discretion occurs âwhen a relevant factor
that should have been given significant weight is not considered; when an irrelevant
or improper factor is considered and given significant weight; and when all proper
factors, and no improper ones, are considered, but the court, in weighing those
factors, commits a clear error of judgment.â Kern v. TXO Prod. Corp., 738 F.2d 968,
970 (8th Cir. 1984).
Consent decrees should: spring from â and serve to resolve â a dispute
within the courtâs subject-matter jurisdiction; come within the general scope of the
case from the pleadings; and, further the objectives of the law on which the complaint
was based. Local Number 93, Intâl Assân of Firefighters v. City of Cleveland, 478
U.S. 501, 525 (1986). A consent decree must be formulated to protect federal
interests. Frew v. Hawkins, 540 U.S. 431, 437 (2004). The adopting court is free to
reject agreed-upon terms not in furtherance of statutory objectives. Angela R. by
Hesselbein v. Clinton, 999 F.2d 320, 324 (8th Cir. 1993). âTo be sure, a federal court
is more than âa recorder of contractsâ from whom parties can purchase injunctionsâ.
Local Number 93, 478 U.S. at 525 (citation omitted).
âWhen reviewing a proposed consent decree, the trial court is to review the
settlement for fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy.â United States v.
Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer Dist., 952 F.2d 1040, 1044 (8th Cir. 1992). Product
Fabricatorsâ reliance on the standards for post-trial relief is misplaced. See EEOC v.
Siouxland Oral Maxillofacial Surgery Assocs., L.L.P., 578 F.3d 921 (8th Cir. 2009)
(reviewing denial of injunction after jury trial). The law strongly prefers settlement
agreements, especially in employment discrimination cases. See Carson v. American
Brands, Inc., 450 U.S. 79, 88 n.14 (1981) (âCooperation and voluntary compliance
were selected [by Congress] as the preferred means for achieving
[nondiscrimination].â), citing Alexander v. Gardener-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 44
The district court did not object to any substantive term of the proposed decree,
but thought that it was unreasonable because the EEOC âpoint[ed] neither to present
nor to past instances of Defendantâs conduct that would render continuing jurisdiction
appropriate.â The district court seemingly agreed with Product Fabricators that the
allegations involve isolated acts of discrimination insufficient for continuing
jurisdiction. The district courtâs order does not mention the drug policy, addressing
only discrimination against Anderson. This fails to accord the federal interest the
significance it deserves. The Supreme Court says that âthe private right of action
remains an essential means of obtaining judicial enforcement . . . ,â concluding that
â[i]n [discrimination] cases, the private litigant not only redresses his own injury but
also vindicates the important congressional policy against discriminatory employment
practices.â Alexander, 415 U.S. at 45.
The EEOC emphasizes that the drug policy would be a longstanding ADA
violation. The EEOCâs memorandum in support of its consent decree pointed to two
longstanding and ongoing patterns or practices of violations of the ADAâs medical
inquiries and confidentiality provisions. See International Bhd. of Teamsters v.
United States, 431 U.S. 324, 336 (1977) (stating that a pattern or practice of
violations means that âdiscrimination was the companyâs standard operating
procedure . . . .â).
The district court also rejected continuing jurisdiction based on the EEOCâs
statement that it did not expect to engage the court to enforce the decree.1 The district
court failed to consider the rest of the EEOCâs statement: âNevertheless, the ability
of the EEOC or another party to move quickly to enforce the consent decree remains
an essential mechanism to protect the integrity of the decree and ensure compliance.â
Continuing jurisdiction is the norm (and often the motivation) for consent
decrees. See Local No. 93, 478 U.S. at 524 n.13 (âPublic law settlements are often
complicated documents designed to be carried out over a period of years, . . . so any
purely out-of-court settlement would suffer the decisive handicap of not being subject
to continuing oversight and interpretation by the court.â (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted)). âA consent decree offers more security to the parties than
a settlement agreement where the only penalty for failure to abide by the agreement
is another suit.â SEC v. Randolph, 736 F.2d 525, 528 (9th Cir. 1984) (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted).
The district court believed that the consent decreeâs dispute resolution clause
also rendered continuing jurisdiction inappropriate. That clause requires the EEOC
to give Product Fabricators notice of alleged noncompliance 20 business days before
initiating any enforcement. The 20 days permit Product Fabricators to comply with
In doing so, the district court acknowledged that implementing the consent
decree would not require much assistance from the court. Cf. Hesselbein, 999 F.2d
at 326 (noting injunctions can be denied if doing otherwise would impose
unreasonable burden on court); Little Rock Sch. Dist. v. Pulaski Cnty. Spec. Sch.
Dist. No. 1, 921 F.2d 1371 (8th Cir. 1990) (same).
the decree. Contrary to the district courtâs belief, continuing jurisdiction enhances
the deterrent effect of the notice-to-comply clause through the courtâs potential
In sum, the district court gave no consideration to the strong preference for
settlement agreements as a means of protecting the federal interest in employment
discrimination cases, or to the fact that continuing jurisdiction is a usual component
of such agreements, in part due to its deterrent effect. The court also improperly gave
significant weight to Product Fabricatorsâ contention that its acts of discrimination
were insufficiently widespread to justify continuing jurisdiction in the face of the
EEOCâs allegations. As a result, the district court here did not explain why
continuing jurisdiction was not fair, reasonable, and adequate, and thus abused its
The judgment of the district court is vacated, and the case remanded for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.