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E.E.O.C. v. LOCAL 638 . . . LOCAL 28 OF SHEET METAL

October 19, 2000

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
LOCAL 638 . . . LOCAL 28 OF THE SHEET METAL WORKERS' INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert L. Carter, District Judge.

OPINION

BACKGROUND

This litigation has occupied the courts for nearly 30 years. A full exploration of the facts in this matter and its procedural history would be a laborious undertaking. Fortunately, such an endeavor is unnecessary for the resolution of the issues presently before the court, and an understanding of certain aspects of the case will suffice.

In 1995, the court found the defendant Sheet Metal Workers' Local Union No. 28 (the "Union" or "Local 28") to be in contempt of court for numerous violations of the court's Order and Judgment ("O & J") entered in 1975 and its Amended Affirmative Action Plan and Order ("AAAPO") entered in 1983. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Local 638, 889 F. Supp. 642 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (Carter, J.).*fn1 The court's decision was based on the Union's failure to achieve a 29.23% nonwhite membership goal and to otherwise meet the requirements of the O & J and AAAPO. Id. The court's contempt order mandated a variety of remedies, including back pay to underemployed nonwhite journeypersons as a remedy for the Union's practice of only helping white journeypersons find jobs. Id. at 669-70. The back pay remedy was supported by both a coercive and a compensatory rationale (i.e. to prompt the Union to comply with the affirmative action program and to compensate the victims of the Union's noncompliance). Id. at 670.

On appeal, the Second Circuit initially vacated and remanded the court's award of back pay. EEOC v. Local 638, 81 F.3d 1162 (2d Cir. 1996). The Court of Appeals reasoned that insofar as the award was a compensatory sanction, the court needed to fashion a more precise mechanism for determining who was entitled to back pay; insofar as it was coercive, the court needed to consider further the Union's ability to pay such a sanction. Id. at 1177. In response to the former concern, this court ordered that the Special Master in this case, David Raff, conduct individual hearings to determine who would be entitled to back pay relief. EEOC v. Local 638, 13 F. Supp.2d 453, 465-66 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (Carter, J.). This plan of determining who would be entitled to back pay was affirmed by the Second Circuit. City of New York v. Local 28, 170 F.3d 279, 284-85 (2d Cir. 1999). To address the Court of Appeals' second reservation regarding the coercive rationale, the court held a hearing during June of 2000 to determine the financial ability of the Union to satisfy the back pay award.

BURDEN OF PRODUCTION

As a preliminary matter, the entire question of the burden of production — a question to which both parties dedicate a great deal of argument — is in the end academic. It is true that the hearing was originally ordered in response to the mandate from the Court of Appeals that the court consider the Union's finances before applying a coercive sanction. EEOC v. Local 638, 13 F. Supp.2d at 470-71. The role of the hearing changed, however, following the more recent Court of Appeals decision. That decision categorically affirmed the court's award of back pay based on its compensatory rationale. City of New York v. Local 28, 170 F.3d at 284-85 (discussing district court's award of back pay solely as a compensatory remedy and stating the "back pay remedy as structured by the district court is affirmed"). While the ability to pay (and the burden of production on this issue) is an entirely relevant question for a coercive sanction, it is unnecessary for establishing a compensatory sanction. See United States v. United Mine Workers of America, 330 U.S. 258, 303-04, 67 S.Ct. 677, 91 L.Ed. 884 (1947); EEOC v. Local 638, 889 F. Supp. at 669.

In light of the most recent Court of Appeals decision, the hearing regarding the Union's financial status was necessary to resolve the pragmatic concern of how this back pay award was to be paid, not whether the Union could afford to pay it. Nonetheless, in determining how the award will be paid, the court finds that the Union can afford the back pay award (and therefore a contempt sanction under either rationale is justified).*fn2

THE BACK PAY AWARD

The total amount of the back pay award has not yet been established. The amount will be determined following individual hearings which will be conducted by the court.*fn3 It is likely that this amount will be in excess of what the Union is able to pay at present and could even exceed twelve million dollars.*fn4 See EEOC v. Local 638, 81 F.3d at 1177.

The Union can currently contribute $1 million and remain economically viable. Local 28 derives almost all of its revenue from its membership dues and assessments.*fn5 (Tr. 38, 441).*fn6 These funds are then deposited into a general fund from which the Union pays its expenses. (Tr. 446). Before the hearing, the court appointed an independent accounting firm, M.D. Oppenheim & Company, to review the financial records of Local 28 to determine the extent to which it could satisfy a back pay award. Stanley J. Moskowitz, a Certified Public Accountant with the M.D. Oppenheim firm, testified that as of December 31, 1999, the Union's unrestricted cash assets equaled $2,035,076. (Tr. 32). The Union can afford to pay $1 million of this amount and still remain financially sound. (Tr. 32-33).

Moskowitz supported the argument that the Union could expend this amount through a rather sophisticated analysis. He explained that a "current ratio" compares the amount of cash assets to the amount of expected liabilities. (Tr. 33). Moskowitz further testified that should the Union only have cash assets in the amount of $1 million, it would still retain close to a two to one current ratio.*fn7 Id. In other words, it would have nearly two dollars in cash assets for every one dollar of expected liabilities. A current ratio of two to one is considered, across many different businesses and not-for-profit organizations, to be financially healthy.*fn8 Id.

Although its own expert witness concedes that it can currently expend $750,000 (Tr. 260), the Union has offered two main arguments to rebut the contention that it can presently pay out $1 million. First it contends that it has an additional liability of approximately $700,000 for a computer system which is necessary to comply with the court's earlier orders. It argues that this liability was not considered by the court's expert when he made his calculations about how much the Union could afford to spend. This argument highlights two erroneous assumptions upon which the Union's expert, James Kokolas, relied. These errors undermine the validity of his conclusions. The Union will not pay for the computer system this year. The Union's auditor and financial secretary admitted that Local 28 only spent $36,000 for the system in 1999, that it had not yet expended any additional funds and that such money would likely be spent over time. (Tr. 195, 494). The Union cannot budget the expense for the year 2000 when it anticipates paying for the system in the future.

An additional faulty assumption made by Kokolas is that many of his calculations regarding Local 28's financial position project a five percent reduction in revenues for 2001. (Def.Ex. 48(d)). He justified this estimation by arguing that 1999 — the year which was the basis for most of the experts' calculations — was a "banner year" and that the past several years demonstrated a fluctuation in revenues and expenses. (Tr. 263). Such a projection is overly speculative and unwarranted, however, especially in light of the fact that the most recent ...


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