256 F.3d 355 (5th Cir. 2001), 99-41472, Ratliff v City of Gainesville

Docket Nº:99-41472
Citation:256 F.3d 355
Party Name:ALAN D. RATLIFF, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF GAINESVILLE, TEXAS, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:July 17, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 355

256 F.3d 355 (5th Cir. 2001)

ALAN D. RATLIFF, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

CITY OF GAINESVILLE, TEXAS, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 99-41472

IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF Appeals, FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

July 17, 2001

Page 356

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 357

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas

Before WIENER and STEWART, Circuit Judges, and WALTER S. SMITH, JR.,[*] District Judge.

CARL E. STEWART, Circuit Judge:

Alan D. Ratliff ("Ratliff") appeals the trial court's jury instructions, as well as its decision to admit certain spoiliation evidence, in an age discrimination lawsuit that he filed against the City of Gainesville, Texas ("the City" or "Gainesville"). For the following reasons, we affirm in part, and we reverse in part and remand for a new trial.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In November 1994, Gainesville hired a recruiting firm, Ralph Anderson & Associates ("RAA"), to conduct a search for a new city manager. David Eisenlohr ("Eisenlohr"), then president of RAA, met with Gainesville City Council ("the Council" or "City Council") members to question them regarding their needs for the position. Based on these interviews, but without needing the final approval of the City in order to run the advertisements or job

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listings, Eisenlohr compiled a written profile of the position. The profile stated that the selectee must have: (1) a diverse general background in municipal management and experience as a city manager, city administrator, chief administrative officer, or an assistant city manager in a similar or larger community; (2) a bachelor's degree, but with preference for a master's degree; and (3) preferably, experience in a stand alone community, i.e., one that provides its own solid waste collection, landfill, water, wastewater treatment, airport, and cemetery. The profile, however, did not require an engineering degree.

An advertisement approved by the City stated that it sought an "up-and-coming, aggressive" leader with a bachelor's degree in public or business administration or a related field. It also stated that a master's degree was preferred, but it made no mention of an engineering degree requirement.

Gainesville's mayor, James Hatcher ("Hatcher"), and members of the City Council told Eisenlohr that the City was looking for a "younger person" who was "very aggressive, very high energy and was not there thinking in terms of putting down roots." Eisenlohr also testified that in a preliminary interview with Ratliff, Eisenlohr stated that although the entire City Council selected the final candidate, Hatcher "called the shots" on the Council. In addition, Eisenlohr stated to Ratliff that the City was "looking for someone who would not plan on staying there, would use it as a stepping stone."

Ratliff was 54-years-old in early 1995, the time at which he applied for the city manager position through RAA. Ratliff had neither an advanced nor an engineering degree. Ratliff, however, had 26 years of managerial experience in city government, including six years of experience as an assistant city manager of Plano, Texas, a small suburban town. He was also the city manager for Coppell, Texas ("Coppell"). The City contends that his experience in these cities did not qualify him for the position in Gainesville, given its view that those cities are not stand alone cities. Similarly, it put into evidence that Ratliff's tenure in Coppell was not without conflict and that he resigned his position as a result of pressure from Coppell's City Council.

Eisenlohr selected Ratliff as a finalist for the position, along with four younger finalists, all of whom were in their thirties. Larry Jackson ("Jackson"), a recommender of Ratliff and an acquaintance of Hatcher, testified that after he recommended Ratliff, Hatcher informed him that the City was looking for "a young man who would probably come in for a short time and move on." Each candidate was interviewed over a two-day period in February 1995 by the City Council, which included at least three individuals who were at least ten years or more older than Ratliff. The Council tape recorded and used certified agendas of the sessions, in accordance with Texas law. In March 1995, several of the City Council members lost their elected seats, and each of these individuals destroyed or discarded, upon immediate notice of their losses, all notes, correspondence, and memoranda related to the hiring process.1

The City ultimately rejected Ratliff and hired Alan Mueller ("Mueller") instead, a man in his early thirties with a master's degree and an engineering background. Mueller, however, had less experience than

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Ratliff. Several council members indicated that Mueller's civil engineering background would be helpful to the City in its negotiations with contractors for several current and pending city projects.

After being notified of the City's hiring decision, Ratliff attempted to contact several City Council members. He succeeded in taping a portion of a conversation with Councilman Kenneth Kaden ("Kaden"), then Mayor Pro Tem,2 who stated that he believed the only reason Ratliff was not hired was his age. Kaden, however, testified that he was simply attempting to mollify Ratliff and to end the conversation quickly since Kaden was busy at work. Kaden also stated in an affidavit that the Council liked neither Ratliff's personality nor demeanor during the interview, but that the council members were too polite to inform Ratliff of this.

Ratliff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on August 29, 1995, and after a two year investigation, the EEOC concluded that Gainesville had violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA")3 because "there was direct evidence that it was seeking a young man for the position who would come in for two (2) to three (3) years and move on to better things." A jury, however, subsequently found that the City had not violated the ADEA. Ratliff now appeals.4

DISCUSSION

I. Jury Instructions

Ratliff argues that the trial court erred when it refused to charge the jury with the following inference instruction: "If the Plaintiff disproves the reasons offered by Defendants by a preponderance of the evidence, you may presume that the employer was motivated by age discrimination." This inference...

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