1982 Jefferson County consent decree

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The 1982 Jefferson County consent decree was an agreement entered into by Jefferson County Commission, the City of Birmingham, the Personnel Board of Jefferson County, and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in order to settle a 1974 lawsuit which accused them of violating federal law by practicing racial discrimination in its hiring and personnel decisions.

The original was brought by the Ensley Branch of the NAACP to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama on January 4, 1974. Three days later a second group of plaintiffs, led by John W. Martin, filed a similar suit. In May 1975 the U.S. Department of Justice initiated their own court action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was argued as United States v. Jefferson County. A fourth suit was brought by Lucy Walker on February 20, 1976. The four cases were for trial, and arguments began on December 20, 1976 before Judge Sam Pointer Jr. Pointer's first order, regarding civil service tests for police and firefighters, was appealed to the 11th Circuit and subsequently referred back to the District Court for additional evidence-gathering. Meanwhile the city and county began separate negotiations to settle the claims by consent decree.

The Personnel Board's agreement took effect on December 29, 1982. It required the county to meet racial and gender-based quotes in hiring until the overall make-up of the workforce under its jurisdiction mirrored the make-up of the county's overall civilian labor force. In 1994 and 1995 the Appellate court ordered modifications to the District Court ruling, limiting the use of race and gender conscious selection procedures in meeting the goals of the decree.

In 2002 Judge Lynwood Smith ruled that the board had been operating in contempt of the consent decree and placed under direct federal control. Ronald Sims was appointed to serve as receiver.

The City of Birmingham was certified to have complied with most of the decree on December 9, 2004. The Alabama State Legislature passed Act of Alabama No. 2008-408, introduced by Paul DeMarco, to overhaul the operations of the Personnel Board. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the new law, but Judge Smith ruled against the motion and effectively voided the law.

Birmingham filed again to be dismissed from the decree in 2011, and was released from federal supervision on January 27, 2012. The county, however, was again found to have been acting in contempt of the decree in 2013. After several hearings, the United States and Jefferson County entered into a newly modified consent decree, generally prohibiting any discrimination on the basis of race, color, or sex on October 16 of that year. Sims was re-appointed as receiver.

The hiring requirements relating to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office were removed from the modified decree in 2017. Jefferson County was ultimately released from the consent decree by Smith's order of December 21, 2020.


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