618 F.Supp. 1109 (D.D.C. 1985), Civ. A. 84-3040, Hopkins v. Price Waterhouse

Docket Nº:Civ. A. 84-3040
Citation:618 F.Supp. 1109
Party Name:Hopkins v. Price Waterhouse
Case Date:September 20, 1985
Court:United States District Courts, District of Columbia

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618 F.Supp. 1109 (D.D.C. 1985)

Ann B. HOPKINS, Plaintiff,



Civ. A. No. 84-3040.

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Sept. 20, 1985

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Douglas B. Horon, James H. Heller, Washington, D.C., for plaintiff.

Stephen E. Tallent, Wayne A. Schrader, and Kathy Davidson Ireland, Washington, D.C., for defendant.


GESELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff was proposed for partnership in Price Waterhouse, a nationwide professional partnership, but was held for further consideration at the next annual partnership selection. The following year the partners in the unit where she worked decided not to propose her a second time. Plaintiff then resigned and filed this suit alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. The Court is asked to order that she be made a partner and to award back pay and other monetary relief. A bench trial lasting four and one-half days followed extensive discovery. After receiving proposed findings of fact, further briefs, and hearing full argument, the Court reaches the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.


Price Waterhouse is a partnership that specializes in providing auditing, tax and management consulting services primarily to private corporations and government agencies. At the time this action was filed, Price Waterhouse had 662 partners operating in 90 offices scattered across the nation. Its partners are certified public accountants and other specialists.

Despite its size and geographic dispersal, Price Waterhouse has consistently sought to maintain the traditional characteristics of a professional partnership both in its management and partnership selection practices. Partners manage the firm through a Senior Partner and Policy Board elected by all the partners. New partners are regularly selected from the ranks of the partnership's senior managers through an elaborate recommendation and review process that culminates in a partnership-wide vote in which the successful candidates are approved. There is no limitation on the number of partners who may be selected in any one year.

The admissions process takes place annually and begins when the partners of each local office may propose that one or more

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senior managers from their office be considered as partnership candidates. Partners in the local offices draft written recommendations based on a detailed consideration of the candidates' qualifications. These proposals are distributed to all of the firm's 662 partners and each partner is invited to submit evaluation forms on any candidate about whom the partner may have information. Partners who have significant and recent contact with the candidate submit "long-form" evaluations and partners who only have a limited basis upon which to evaluate the candidate submit "short form" evaluations. These forms ask the partners to rank the candidates relative to other recent partnership candidates in 48 different categories ranging from practice development and technical expertise to interpersonal skills and participation in civic activities. The numerical rankings in this exhaustive list of relevant, neutral criteria is supplemented by asking the partners to indicate whether they believe the candidate should be admitted to the partnership, denied partnership or held for further consideration and asking them to provide a short comment explaining their assessment.

The Admissions Committee reviews each candidate's personnel file and members of the Committee make visits to some local offices to interview partners who have commented in order to determine more precisely the basis for their views on the candidates. The Admissions Committee then prepares a summary of the evaluations and other information and makes its recommendations to the Policy Board. If the recommendation is to "hold" a candidate for reconsideration in a later year or a "no" recommendation denying admission, the Committee prepares a short written statement summarizing its reasons.

The Policy Board reviews the recommendations of the Admissions Committee and votes to include a candidate on the partnership ballot, to "hold" the candidate, or to deny partnership. While the Admissions Committee's recommendations focuses primarily on the qualifications of the individual candidate, the Policy Board may occasionally interject business considerations and decide to recommend a candidate because of the firm's need for a particular type of partner or a particular skill. The candidates recommended by the Policy Board are submitted to the entire partnership for election, and candidates who are not included on the ballot are informed of the Board's reasons for rejecting their candidacy. Candidates who have been held may be reproposed in later years and the review process begins again. Price Waterhouse made every document generated by this admissions process on candidates proposed for admission in 1982, 1983 and 1984 available to the plaintiff during the course of discovery in this case.

In 1982 the plaintiff was proposed for partnership by her office, the Office of Government Services (OGS), which specializes in designing and implementing consulting and management projects for government agencies. Plaintiff was the only woman among the 88 candidates for partnership that year. All of the partners in OGS at that time were men. Indeed, as of July, 1984 only seven of the 662 partners at Price Waterhouse were women.

Plaintiff had had a successful career as a senior manager in OGS and had played a significant role in developing business for the firm. She played a key role in Price Waterhouse's successful effort to win a multi-million dollar contract with the Department of State. Afterwards, she helped prepare a proposal and manage a project for a computerized system to handle the State Department's real property worldwide and successfully managed the preparation of a competitive proposal for a computer system to track loans of the Farmers' Home Administration. She had no difficulty dealing with clients and her clients appear to have been very pleased with her work. None of the other partnership candidates at Price Waterhouse that year had a comparable record in terms of successfully securing major contracts for the partnership. The partners in the OGS office fully endorsed her proposal for partnership. She was generally viewed as a highly competent project leader who worked long

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hours, pushed vigorously to meet deadlines and demanded much from the multidisciplinary staffs with which she worked.

The comments submitted to the Admissions Committee, however, indicated that plaintiff had problems with her "interpersonal skills;" specifically, she had trouble in dealing with staff members. Eight of the thirty-two partners who submitted evaluations recommended that she be denied admission, three favored holding her for reconsideration, and eight indicated that they had insufficient basis for an opinion. Supporters and opponents of her candidacy indicated that she was sometimes overly aggressive, unduly harsh, difficult to work with and impatient with staff. 1 She sometimes used profanity and appeared to be insensitive to others. These negative comments and the significant number of "no" votes, most of which were by partners filing short forms because of their limited contact with the plaintiff, were determinative in the Admission Committee's decision to recommend "that she should be HELD at least a year to afford time to demonstrate that she has the personal and leadership qualities required of a partner." 2 After a full discussion the Policy Board adopted this recommendation.

After learning that her candidacy had been put on hold plaintiff, at the urging of the Senior Partner, underwent a Quality Control Review in order to improve her chances of making partner the next year. Several partners indicated that they planned to give the plaintiff opportunities to demonstrate her abilities and receive more exposure. However, these partners never followed through on their plans and the favorable results of the Quality Control Review came too late because just four months after the Policy Board's recommendation the partners in OGS decided not to repropose the plaintiff for partnership. By that time, two partners in the OGS office strongly opposed her candidacy. Without strong support within that office, it was felt that her candidacy could not possibly be successful.

After the decision not to repropose, the plaintiff was advised that it was very unlikely that she would be admitted to partnership. Rather than waiting to try again or accepting an offer to remain as a senior manager, she resigned from Price Waterhouse in January, 1984. After pursuing the appropriate administrative remedies she brought this action.


From the outset Price Waterhouse has conceded that plaintiff was qualified to be considered for partnership and probably would have been admitted but for the complaints about her interpersonal skills. Consequently, there is no dispute that the plaintiff has presented a prima facie case under Title VII by showing that she was a qualified partnership candidate, she was rejected, and Price Waterhouse continues to seek partners with her qualifications. See Cooper v. Federal Reserve Bank, 467 U.S. 867, 104 S.Ct. 2794, 2799, 81 L.Ed.2d 718 (1984); Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253 & n. 6, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1094 & n. 6, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). The only dispute between the parties is whether Price Waterhouse's concerns about the plaintiff's interpersonal skills present...

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