470 U.S. 564 (1985), 83-1623, Anderson v. City of Bessemer

Docket Nº:No. 83-1623
Citation:470 U.S. 564, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 84 L.Ed.2d 518, 53 U.S.L.W. 4314
Party Name:Anderson v. City of Bessemer
Case Date:March 19, 1985
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 564

470 U.S. 564 (1985)

105 S.Ct. 1504, 84 L.Ed.2d 518, 53 U.S.L.W. 4314

Anderson

v.

City of Bessemer

No. 83-1623

United States Supreme Court

March 19, 1985

Argued December 3, 1984

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In 1975, respondent city set about to hire a new Recreation Director to manage the city's recreational facilities and to develop recreational programs. A committee, consisting of four men and one woman, was responsible for choosing the Director. Eight persons applied for the position, including petitioner, the only woman applicant. At the time, petitioner was a 39-year-old schoolteacher with college degrees in social studies and education. The committee offered the position to a 24-year-old male applicant, who had recently graduated from college with a degree in physical education. The four men on the committee voted to offer the job to him, and only the woman voted for petitioner. Petitioner then filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which, upon finding that there was reasonable cause to believe that petitioner's charges were true, invited the parties to engage in conciliation proceedings. When these efforts proved unsuccessful, the EEOC issued petitioner a right-to-sue letter, and she filed an action in Federal District Court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After a trial in which testimony from petitioner, the applicant who was hired, and members of the selection committee was heard, the court issued a memorandum announcing its finding that petitioner was entitled to judgment because she had been denied the position on account of her sex. The memorandum requested petitioner to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law expanding upon those set forth in the memorandum. When petitioner complied with this request, the court requested and received a response setting forth respondent's [105 S.Ct. 1507] objections to the proposed findings. The court then issued its own findings of fact and conclusions of law. The court's finding that petitioner had been denied employment because of her sex was based on findings of fact that she was the most qualified candidate, that she had been asked questions during her interview regarding her spouse's feelings about her application for the position that other applicants were not asked, and that the male committee members were biased against hiring a woman. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the District Court's findings were clearly erroneous and that the court had therefore erred in finding that petitioner had been discriminated against on account of sex.

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Held: The Court of Appeals misapprehended and misapplied the clearly erroneous standard, and accordingly erred in denying petitioner relief under Title VII. Pp. 571-581.

(a) Where the District Court did not simply adopt petitioner's proposed findings, but provided respondent with an opportunity to respond to those findings, and the findings ultimately issued varied considerably from those proposed by petitioner, there is no reason to doubt that the ultimate findings represented the court's own considered conclusions or to subject those findings to a more stringent appellate review than is called for by the applicable rules. Pp. 571-573.

(b) Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) -- which provides that

[f]indings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous, and due regard shall be given to the opportunity of the trial court to judge of the credibility of the witness

--

[a] finding is "clearly erroneous" when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.

United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 394-395. If the district court's account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety, the court of appeals may not reverse it even though convinced that, had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently. This is so even when the district court's findings do not rest on credibility determinations, but are based on physical or documentary evidence or inferences from other facts. When findings are based on determinations regarding the credibility of witnesses, Rule 52(a) demands even greater deference to the trial court's finding. Pp. 573-576.

(c) Application of the above principles to the facts of this case discloses that the Court of Appeals erred in its employment of the clearly erroneous standard. The District Court's finding that petitioner was better qualified was entitled to deference, notwithstanding it was not based on credibility determinations, and the record contains nothing that mandates a holding that the finding was clearly erroneous. As to the District Court's finding that petitioner was the only applicant asked questions regarding her spouse's feelings about her application for the position, the Court of Appeals erred in failing to give due regard to the District Court's ability to interpret and discern the credibility of oral testimony, especially that of the woman member of the selection committee, whose testimony the District Court felt supported the finding. Given that that finding was not clearly erroneous, the District Court's finding of bias cannot be termed erroneous. It is supported not only by the treatment of petitioner in her interview but also by the testimony of one committee member that he believed it would have been difficult for a woman to perform the job, and by evidence that another member solicited applications only from men. Because the findings on which the

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District Court based its finding of sex discrimination were not clearly erroneous, its finding of discrimination was also not clearly erroneous. Pp. 576-581.

717 F.2d 149, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, POWELL, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 581. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 581.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Pullman-Standard v. Swint, 456 U.S. 273 (1982), we held that a District Court's finding of discriminatory intent in an action brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 253, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., is a factual finding that may be overturned on appeal only if it is clearly erroneous. In this case, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that there was clear error in a District Court's finding of discrimination, and reversed. Because our reading of the record convinces us that the Court of Appeals misapprehended and misapplied the clearly erroneous standard, we reverse.

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I

Early in 1975, officials of respondent Bessemer City, North Carolina, set about to hire a new Recreation Director for the city. Although the duties that went with the position were not precisely delineated, the new Recreation Director was to be responsible for managing all of the city's recreational facilities and for developing recreational programs -- athletic and otherwise -- to serve the needs of the city's residents. A five-member committee selected by the Mayor was responsible for choosing the Recreation Director. Of the five members, four were men; the one woman on the committee, Mrs. Auddie Boone, served as the chairperson.

Eight persons applied for the position of Recreation Director. Petitioner, at the time a 39-year-old schoolteacher with college degrees in social studies and education, was the only woman among the eight. The selection committee reviewed the resumes submitted by the applicants and briefly interviewed each of the jobseekers. Following the interviews, the committee offered the position to Mr. Donald Kincaid, a 24-year-old who had recently graduated from college with a degree in physical education. All four men on the committee voted to offer the job to Mr. Kincaid; Mrs. Boone voted for petitioner.

Believing that the committee had passed over her in favor of a less qualified candidate solely because she was a woman, petitioner filed discrimination charges with the Charlotte District Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In July, 1980 (five years after petitioner filed the charges), the EEOC's District Director found that there was reasonable cause to believe that petitioner's charges were true, and invited the parties to attempt a resolution of petitioner's grievance through conciliation proceedings. The EEOC's efforts proved unsuccessful, and, in due course, petitioner received a right-to-sue letter.

Petitioner then filed this Title VII action in the United States District Court for the Western District of North

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Carolina. After a 2-day trial during which the court heard testimony from petitioner, Mr. Kincaid, and the five members of the selection committee, the court issued a brief memorandum of decision setting forth its finding that petitioner was entitled to judgment because she had been denied the position of Recreation Director on account of her sex. In addition to laying out the rationale for this finding, the memorandum requested that petitioner's counsel submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law expanding upon those set forth in the memorandum. Petitioner's counsel complied with this request by submitting a lengthy set of proposed findings (App. 11a-34a); the court then requested and received a response setting forth in detail respondent's objections to the proposed findings (id. at 36a-47a) -- objections that were, in turn, answered by petitioner's counsel in a somewhat less lengthy reply (id. at 48a-54a). After receiving these submissions, the court issued...

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