578 F.3d 862 (8th Cir. 2009), 08-3201, Dixon v. Pulaski County Special School Dist.

Docket Nº:08-3201.
Citation:578 F.3d 862
Opinion Judge:MELLOY, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Norma DIXON, Appellant, v. PULASKI COUNTY SPECIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellee.
Attorney:Philip A. Hostak, argued, Washington, DC., Mark Burnette, on the brief, Little Rock, AR, for appellant. George Jay Bequette, Jr., Little Rock, AR, for appellee.
Judge Panel:Before WOLLMAN, MELLOY, and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:August 27, 2009
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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578 F.3d 862 (8th Cir. 2009)

Norma DIXON, Appellant,

v.

PULASKI COUNTY SPECIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellee.

No. 08-3201.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

August 27, 2009

Submitted: April 16, 2009.

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Philip A. Hostak, argued, Washington, DC., Mark Burnette, on the brief, Little Rock, AR, for appellant.

George Jay Bequette, Jr., Little Rock, AR, for appellee.

Before WOLLMAN, MELLOY, and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.

MELLOY, Circuit Judge.

Norma Dixon-an African-American woman who has worked for the Pulaski County Special School District (the " School District" ) since 2001-applied for a " Buyer" position with the School District in 2006. She was not given an interview for the position, and she sued for racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § § 1981, 1983, 2000(e) and Arkansas Code section 16-123-101. The district court 1 granted summary judgment for the School District, finding that although Dixon had established a prima facie case, she was unable to show that the School District's proffered nondiscriminatory reason was pretext for discrimination. Dixon appeals. We affirm.

I.

Dixon joined the School District in 2001 as a " Purchasing Clerk." William Rains, the " Director of Purchasing," sought to have the Purchasing Clerk position upgraded to a " Purchasing Specialist" position, which, unlike the Purchasing Clerk position, would progress into the higher-level Buyer position. The School District denied his request. After one year, Dixon obtained a higher-paying bookkeeping position in the School District's food-services department. A few months later, she returned to the purchasing department with

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a promotion to " Secretary to the Director of Purchasing."

In late 2006, William Rains retired, and Sinclair Winburn was promoted from Buyer to Director of Purchasing. The School District's human resources department posted a job announcement for Winburn's now-open Buyer position. The minimum qualifications for the position were, inter alia, a college degree and " [f]ive years experience in public purchasing." The School District's policy required that a biracial, three-person interview committee screen the applications and that all applicants meeting the minimum qualifications be given an interview. Winburn stated that he was unaware of the college-degree requirement and that he had considered Rebecca Rains,2 the woman the School District ultimately hired, to be the sole qualified applicant. Nevertheless, Winburn, in his new position, scheduled interviews with all six applicants, including Dixon and Rebecca Rains. The Superintendent, however, pulled the announcement because none of the six applicants met the minimum requirements (i.e., possessed a college degree), and Winburn accordingly cancelled the interviews.

Winburn then submitted a " corrected" job announcement, which was posted after review by his superiors. The title of the position was changed from " Buyer" to " Buyer/Fixed Asset Administrator," and the requisite experience and the position's responsibilities were also amended to include references to fixed assets. The revised job posting did not include a college-degree requirement. According to Winburn, the change in the job description was meant to update the description to reflect the actual responsibilities of the Buyer position: the " Fixed Asset Specialist" position had been frozen several years before for budgetary reasons, and the person in the Buyer position had taken over the fixed-asset responsibilities. Dixon claims that the " new" position was " phoney" and that Winburn tailored the qualifications specifically to render Dixon unqualified. She also argues that the amendments to the job description resulted in an entirely new support-staff position, which required the Board of Education Policies's approval and that, in failing to obtain the approval, the Superintendent violated School District policy. In support of her argument that the Buyer/Fixed Asset Administrator position was fictitious, Dixon points to school-board minutes that refer to Rebecca Rains's position only as " Buyer" and to Rebecca Rains's employment contract, which states the position's primary responsibility as " Buyer." Dixon does not contest, however, that there had been, and still is, a separate Fixed Assets Specialist position that was frozen; rather, she asserts that adding the fixed-asset responsibilities to the Buyer position contravened " [the school board's] will and procedures since the ‘ Fixed Assets' position had been frozen indefinitely."

Dixon and Rebecca Rains, among others, submitted applications in response to the revised job posting. In violation of School District policy, Winburn alone screened the applicants for the revised posting, though the School District contends that his actions were in line with customary practice. Unlike with the previous posting, Winburn selected only two individuals for interviews, Rebecca Rains and Kenneth Guillotte, neither of whom are African-American. Winburn stated that he did not select Dixon for an interview because she did not meet the minimum qualifications; specifically, he stated

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that Dixon did not have the requisite five years' experience as a buyer in public purchasing. School District accountant and interview-committee member Tasha Thompson, however, stated in an affidavit that Winburn had told her that he believed Dixon did have the requisite experience. Thompson also stated that by 2006 Dixon was able to provide information regarding the purchasing department's policies and procedures while William Rains was away.3

Although Winburn alone made the decision whether to interview each candidate, he discussed the candidates with the other members of the interview committee, and the other members of the interview committee had reviewed the applications at the time of the first job announcement, including those of Dixon and Rebecca Rains. Moreover, Thompson stated that after reviewing the applications, she felt that Rebecca Rains " had superior qualifications to the other applicants." Rebecca Rains had over twenty years' experience in public purchasing, much of it at senior levels. After the interview committee interviewed the two candidates selected by Winburn, it selected Rebecca Rains.

The district court found, for purposes of establishing a prima facie case, that Dixon had the minimum experience needed. The district court further concluded, however, that the School District put forth a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for not hiring Dixon and that Dixon was unable to show that the School District's proffered reason was mere pretext for a discriminatory animus.

II.

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Dixon, the non-moving party. Arnold v. Nursing and Rehab. Ctr. at Good Shepherd, LLC, 471 F.3d 843, 845 (8th Cir.2006). " Although summary judgment is to be used sparingly in employment discrimination cases, it is appropriate where one party has failed to present evidence sufficient to create a jury question as to an essential element of its claim." Id. (quotation omitted).

The parties agree that the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting analysis applies to Dixon's claims. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). Under this analysis, a claim...

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