609 F.2d 702 (4th Cir. 1979), 77-1543, Wright v. National Archives and Records Service

Docket Nº:77-1543.
Citation:609 F.2d 702
Party Name:P 30,326 James B. WRIGHT, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Appellant, v. NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS SERVICE, etc., et al., Appellees.
Case Date:October 19, 1979
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 702

609 F.2d 702 (4th Cir. 1979)

P 30,326

James B. WRIGHT, on behalf of himself and all others

similarly situated, Appellant,

v.

NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS SERVICE, etc., et al., Appellees.

No. 77-1543.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

October 19, 1979

Argued Jan. 9, 1979.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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William S. Moore, Washington, D. C. (Wendy S. White, Shea & Gardner, Washington, D. C., on brief), for appellant.

David Dart Queen, Asst. U. S. Atty., Baltimore, Md. (Jervis S. Finney, U. S. Atty. and Thomas L. Crowe, Asst. U. S. Atty., Baltimore, Md., on brief), for appellees.

Before HAYNSWORTH, Chief Judge, and WINTER, BUTZNER, RUSSELL, WIDENER, HALL and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges, sitting en banc.

JAMES DICKSON PHILLIPS, Circuit Judge:

James B. Wright, a black civil service employee of the National Archives and Records Service appeals from a judgment denying any relief in his action brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-5(f)(3) and 2000e-16(c) alleging discrimination on the basis of race in certain personnel actions taken in relation to his federal employment. 1 Accepted with two other black and one white fellow

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employees into a training program designed to qualify the trainees for promotion to higher civil service grades, Wright was evaluated unqualified for a second promotion at its end. When he declined to accept a proffered special extension of training to see if he might later qualify for promotion, he was removed from the program. Alleging discriminatory personnel actions taken during the course of the training program and in the failure to promote him at its conclusion, he sought, with other relief, promotion and back pay at the higher grade. Following a bench trial, the district court concluded that no violation of Title VII had been established. 2 We agree and affirm. 3

I

The Archives Specialists Training Program was instituted in 1968 by the National Archives and Records Service at the Washington National Records Center to develop personnel to fill the positions of supervisory archives technician and archives specialist. At its outset, applicants were required to be graduates of a four-year college and to have passed the Federal Service Entrance Examination. The program covered a two-year period and applicants were required to enter at the grade level GS-5. Those who successfully completed the first year would be promoted to GS-7; those who successfully completed the second year to GS-9. Any applicant who had already attained a grade level higher than GS-5 had to drop back to GS-5 to enter the program. Successful graduates of the program would be assigned to positions as supervisory archives technicians or as archives specialists.

In 1969 an investigation into possible racial discrimination at the Washington Records Center was conducted. A report documenting the existence of discrimination resulted. Following this, the requirements that applicants to the training program be college graduates and have passed the Federal Service Entrance Examination were dropped. Thereafter, black employees of the Archives and Records Service were actively recruited for the training program as part of the Agency's Equal Employment Opportunity Affirmative Action Program. Among those recruited was plaintiff James B. Wright.

On April 19, 1970, Wright signed a training agreement and entered the program. He was not a college graduate. Since 1957, he had been employed by the General Services Administration and the National Archives and Records Service. Classified as a GS-6, he had to accept a grade reduction to GS-5. He was the first black to enter the program. In May 1970, three other members of the training class were accepted: Ernest Nolan, a black college graduate; Robert Sistare, a black without a college degree; and Orace Whitelock, a white with a college degree.

During the progress of this "1970 class" of four through the training program there occurred a series of incidents which, though not all central to Wright's specific claims of discrimination, bear significantly upon resolution of those claims. The first involved work space assigned to the trainees. Whitelock, the sole white trainee, was the first of the class to begin the program. When he arrived, the area where the trainees were to work was under construction, so he sat in the same cubicle with other trainees from earlier classes, as directed by a superior. When Wright arrived, he asserts that he either had to erect his own cubicle or was assigned to one that had just been constructed by someone else. The other black trainees were seated with Wright. After the trainee or trainees (the number seems to have varied) with whom Whitelock sat

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had graduated, Whitelock had his cubicle to himself. After the blacks complained about the apparently segregated working space conditions, Whitelock's desk was moved into the same vicinity as theirs. This was some two or three months after the program began.

The second incident involved the procedures by which the trainees were rotated through the various branches of the Service. During the course of the program, each of the trainees was supposed to rotate through each of the branches twice. Wright complains that whereas Whitelock was put into the rotation immediately, he and Sistare were not. Be that as it may, the design was generally followed. Wright certainly made the full rotation twice. The type of work assigned to the trainees in each branch was apparently determined by whoever was supervising them at the time and probably depended on what was available to be done. The trainees did not all follow the same rotation schedule. Wright contends that Whitelock received more challenging assignments which better prepared him for a managerial position. The Manpower Officer for the program, Wendell Evans, testified that Whitelock may have been given tougher assignments because he was doing better work and progressing faster than the other trainees.

The next set of incidents involved the quality of supervision and evaluation of the trainees provided by their several supervisors, particularly defendant Jean Fraley. Wright adduced evidence that in a variety of ways the supervisors gave less instruction to the black trainees than to Whitelock and that they were more reluctant to take the time to answer questions from the blacks than from Whitelock. Whitelock essentially acknowledged that he received closer supervision, but asserted that this was because he took the initiative to seek this out.

Fraley was the supervisor under whom Wright worked when he began rotating through the various branches of the Records Center. The black trainees perceived her to be racially prejudiced and some non-blacks also did. She possessed what was described on trial as an "abrasive" personality and some who testified attributed her behavior to that. The district court found, and this is not controverted on appeal, that Fraley gave closer instruction and supervision to Whitelock while he worked under her than to the black trainees. This, however, was found to be the product of a mistaken belief on Fraley's part that Whitelock was to be permanently assigned to her branch. After the black trainees complained, Fraley was removed from her position.

At the end of his first year, Wright was promoted to GS-7 as were the other trainees. Until well into his second year in the training program his evaluations were "good" or "excellent" except for one evaluation of "poor." When he attempted to determine who gave it, he was at first unable to obtain an answer, but eventually learned it was Fraley. He then sought and was successful in having Fraley's superior, Walter Barbash, raise it to a "fair." During the latter period of his second year in the program, Wright's evaluations began to fall off. The evidence as to cause is in sharp conflict. Wright contends that it resulted from a stiffening of the evaluation criteria at that time. Another explanation, of which the record contains only a suggestion, is that during the earlier stages of the program someone was assisting Wright in preparing his reports and that when that stopped his deficiencies appeared. No specific findings of fact as to this matter were made.

The ultimate focus of Wright's claim of discrimination relates to unequal special training opportunities provided the three black trainees as opposed to those provided Whitelock. In addition to rotation through the various branches of the Records Center, the trainees were provided with a number of courses to provide special training. To some extent these seem to have been tailored to the perceived needs of each trainee. Wright, who had writing problems, asked for and was assigned a composition course in the graduate school of the Department of

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Agriculture. Whitelock attended courses in "Work Force Estimating" and "Work Simplification Techniques." From this, it is contended that Whitelock attended courses that were better adapted to training managerial skills.

The main contention of discriminatory unequal training however pertains to a so-called Special Projects Staff created in May 1971 to serve the Washington National Records Center. Twice recommended in the late 1960's, its principal function was envisioned to be that of dealing with management problems arising throughout the Records Center. Originally the plans had called for a staff of nine, but due to economic concerns, Joseph Bradt, then Manager of the Center and a defendant in this action, asked only for a chief and six staff members. Only the chief and three staff positions were created; and the defendant Roy Wilson was assigned as Chief of the Staff. Bradt...

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