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Cooper v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

Citation. 22 Ill.467 U.S. 867, 104 S. Ct. 2794, 81 L. Ed. 2d 718, 35 FEP Cases 1 (1984)
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Brief Fact Summary.

A class action was filed in federal court that certified a class described as all black employees of Defendant employed since January 3, 1974, that were discriminated against because of their race. The court ultimately found that Defendant did not have policies or practices of race discrimination, although it did find some intervenors to have potentially actionable race discrimination claims. When the intervenors brought individual suits, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to dismiss, on the grounds that res judicata precluded the individual lawsuits.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A District Court’s finding against individual class members regarding a claim that requires establishment of class-wide discrimination does not preclude an individual case based on race discrimination.


A federal court certified a class described as all black employees of Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Defendant employed since January 3, 1974, that were discriminated against because of their race. The District Court found that Defendant engaged in policies and practices of failing to pay black employees the same pay grade as white employees in Grades 4-5. In addition, the District Court found that Defendant did not engage in policies and practices of race discrimination as to other aspects alleged such as to warrant relief. Finally, the District Court found against some intervenors, but not the group of plaintiffs known as the “Baxter petitioners.” The Baxter petitioners subsequently brought individual lawsuits alleging race discrimination. Defendant moved to dismiss on the grounds that Baxter petitioners were not in Grades 4 or 5 and thus were bound by the District Court’s previous determination. The District Court denied the motion to dismiss. On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that under the doctrine of res judicata, the Baxter petitioners were precluded from bringing individual lawsuits. Baxter petitioners appealed.


Did the District Court’s order pertaining to its finding of Defendant’s lack of policies and practices of race discrimination such as to warrant relief preclude the Baxter petitioners’ individual lawsuits?


No. Reversed and remanded. Pattern and practice claims do not focus on individual hiring and employment related decisions. It is possible to prove some individual claims of race discrimination without establishing company-wide patterns of discrimination. The judgment in the case is binding to the extent that there is a pattern and practice of race discrimination in pay for Grades 4-5 during the relevant time period and in all other aspects there is not sufficient pattern and practices of race discrimination during the relevant time period. To bar individual lawsuits in a pattern and practice claim would create a situation where all individuals would have to intervene in the class action in order to ensure that the merits of their individual cases are litigated. This would be contrary to the purpose of Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in allowing for many individual claims to be consolidated into a group or groups of claims.


This case distinguishes two different kinds of employment discrimination cases: individual vs. “pattern and practice.” “Pattern and practice” requires evidence of company-wide policies and practices that demonstrate race discrimination. Because the burden of proving these elements requires establishing more than a few individual claims, a finding of “no pattern and practice” does not resolve an issue of whether there are individual actionable instances of race discrimination. Thus, it cannot have preclusive effect over an individual claim of race discrimination.

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