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PENNSYLVANIA v. LOCAL UNION 542

November 7, 1979

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA and WILLIAMS, et al.
v.
LOCAL UNION 542, INTERNATIONAL UNION OF OPERATING ENGINEERS, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HIGGINBOTHAM, JR.

I.

The Impoundment and Settlement Process

 Today I file an opinion which supplements and explains a decree filed on August 8, 1979. By agreement of all parties, the August decree was impounded when filed; no one other than my staff and I saw it or was aware of its contents. The decree will be released from impoundment upon the filing of this opinion. Since the impoundment process, which I also invoked for the November 30, 1978 liability opinion, is somewhat unique, a description of the events and an explanation is appropriate.

 The impoundment was in the best interests of the parties and the public as it maximized the chances for settlement. All parties desired to have the court move forward with the resolution of pending legal issues, while they simultaneously explored settlement options on their own. Litigants settle cases because neither party knows for sure what the ultimate outcome of the litigation will be. In a sense, it is almost like a shell and pea game; when your shell is picked up, will you be a big winner or a disappointed loser, and what will the ultimate amount of damages be, if any?

 The litigants were sensitive to the realities of the settlement process; they recognized that a premature revelation of the trial judge's ultimate views could cause the "winning" party to harden his position and thereafter be less receptive to a compromise. Such inflexibility at the bargaining table would decrease the probability of any settlement and add years to a case which has been litigated for several years already. The parties at one point asked me to assist them in the settlement process. While I was supportive of any bona fide settlement efforts of the parties, I did not want to be privy to any confidential settlement discussions while I was adjudicating issues of liability or formulating the contents of the formal decree; hence, the necessity for the impoundment process.

 There were at least two substantial efforts to settle the case. The first major attempt occurred during the summer of 1978 after there had been an election of different officers for the union and a change of counsel for the union. At that time the record had already been closed; proposed findings of fact and briefs had been filed; and the matter had been argued. The case had been bifurcated earlier and had been tried on the liability issues only. At some point in 1978, though from my view far too belatedly, the parties seemed to acknowledge that even if the plaintiffs received a favorable liability decree, the battle would be far from won because the scope of the decree and the amount of damages could be subjects of further litigation which could protract this matter for additional years. If the issue of liability was resolved against all the defendants or any single defendant, further extensive litigation would follow on what injunctive relief would be appropriate, how jobs would be allocated, and how damages would be calculated on an individual basis. The decision on whether any specific person is entitled to monetary damages cannot be resolved at the liability stage. We were and still are dealing with a complicated matrix which involves thousands of union members and hundreds of thousands of man hours extending over more than a decade of work experience. The fact finder must ultimately review the work pattern and hours of each specific plaintiff (a named plaintiff or a member of the class) and compare his past record with what he would have gotten absent discrimination.

 While I was anxious to have the case settled if the parties could agree, I did not want the settlement process to impinge on the judicial fact-finding aspects or to deter unduly my ultimate decision on the liability phase. Thus, it was agreed that I would finish my opinion as planned, and I would file and impound it; if the parties did not agree on a settlement, it would then be released from impoundment. The liability opinion was filed on November 30, 1978. In late December, 1978, I was advised that the parties could not settle the case, and accordingly my liability opinion was released from impoundment on January 2, 1979. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Local Union 542, 469 F. Supp. 329 (E.D.Pa.1978). That opinion dealt with the factual and procedural background of this litigation's liability phase. The parties were obligated to file proposed forms of decree consistent with the opinion.

 In 1979 after the oral argument on the form and substance of the decree, another substantial effort was again made by the parties to settle the case. This time the parties asked me to participate in the settlement process in the hope that, with my knowledge of the record, I could make a recommendation that would be acceptable to all parties. So that my participation in settlement discussions would not infringe on the adjudicatory aspects of the case, I filed the decree on August 8, 1979 and only thereafter participated in several settlement conferences with the parties. Thus, the parties could discuss candidly their settlement views without fear of affecting my ultimate decision on the legal issues or on the form of the decree.

 Tragically, the parties were once again unable to settle the case even though I made specific recommendations on dollar amounts and injunctive relief. One side was willing to accept my recommendation but the other side made, in my view, such an unrealistic demand that the class plaintiffs' cupboard will again be barren except for the gratification that their counsel will be arguing refined, sophisticated legal doctrines about damages which they hope to collect years from now.

 Some comment is also required on the influence of class certification on the settlement process. When this suit was filed, all twelve of the named plaintiffs were graduates of the Benjamin Franklin I or II program. At that time none, or at most one, of the named plaintiffs was a member of the union. In my opinion of November 30, 1978, when dealing with the issue of class certification, I noted:

 
I find that there is no conflict between such plaintiffs for purposes of trying the legal issues of this suit. Plaintiffs are not attacking the hiring hall system as constituted but rather are attacking practices which, while forming no part of the hiring hall's stated foundation nevertheless have a profound impact on its operation.

 469 F. Supp. at 350 (emphasis supplied).

 This previous certification of the class pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 was for the liability phase of the case only. Since this case has not been settled, and it will proceed to the damage phase, I leave it for the judge who will try this case on the damage phase to ascertain whether the named plaintiffs or the advisory committee of 15 to the plaintiffs' counsel now satisfy the standards for class representation pursuant to Rule 23. For the purposes of settling or trying the damage issues of this suit, I would today reconsider the issue of whether the named plaintiffs are "representative parties (who) fairly and adequately protect the interest of the class" as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)(4). In fact, it is difficult for me to ascertain what role the named plaintiffs are now exerting in this case. Apparently, instead of the named plaintiffs being the decisive ones making the decisions for settlement, that responsibility has been allocated to an advisory committee of fifteen, appointed by plaintiffs' counsel, to consult with plaintiffs' counsel and make decisions on settlement and damages for the entire class. On that committee, nine of the fifteen are parent body journeymen members of the union and thus are skilled operating engineers. Only two of the named plaintiffs are members of the advisory committee. Thus, for settlement purposes we had the anomaly that 87 percent of the advisory committee consisted of persons who did not file the suit. I am not certain that as a group the advisory committee's interests will be precisely the same, when it comes to settlement or damages, as those individuals who still seek for the first time entry into an apprenticeship program or membership in the union. I am not certain whether the parent body journeymen's desires to be compensated for financial damages purportedly suffered in the past will get higher priority in the settlement process than the opening of new jobs to people who have yet to get a union card. By these comments I am not impugning the members of the advisory committee. Many have testified before me and, with compassion, have revealed dreadful stories of years of humiliation, scorn and disparate treatment. But the settlement process requires a balancing of the interest of all members of the class and a settlement necessarily means that no one gets in full today what he hopes he might get by verdict a decade from now.

 Similarly, these comments are not intended to impugn in any way plaintiffs' counsel, for I note on the record the court's high respect for the perceptiveness, dedication, and unlimited tenacity of plaintiffs' counsel. However, at the damage phase, all counsel must come to grips with the reality that it is often easier to litigate acrimoniously and protractedly than it is to use creative efforts in attempts to constructively terminate litigation. In the final analysis, the brilliant briefs of counsel, the flash of eloquent arguments, the citations in the future to their case as significant precedent, and even the drama of a packed courtroom will never be adequate mementos for the victims of discrimination who desire money and jobs now. Similarly, protracted litigation does not aid the defendants who at this stage must recognize that it is far better to conclude litigation with liability ...


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