675 F.2d 398 (D.C. Cir. 1982), 80-2584, Freeman v. Lewis

Docket Nº:80-2584.
Citation:675 F.2d 398
Party Name:Martha S. FREEMAN, Individually and on Behalf of all others Similarly Situated, Appellee, v. Drew LEWIS, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Secretary, U. S. Department of Transportation, et al., Appellants.
Case Date:April 13, 1982
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Page 398

675 F.2d 398 (D.C. Cir. 1982)

Martha S. FREEMAN, Individually and on Behalf of all others

Similarly Situated, Appellee,

v.

Drew LEWIS, Individually and in his Official Capacity as

Secretary, U. S. Department of Transportation, et

al., Appellants.

No. 80-2584.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

April 13, 1982

As Amended April 13, 1982.

Page 399

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C. Civil Action No. 76-01587).

David H. Shapiro, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., with whom Charles F. C. Ruff, U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., at the time the brief was filed, Royce C. Lamberth and Kenneth M. Raisler, Asst. U. S. Attys., Washington, D. C., were on the brief, for appellants. Robert E. Kapp and Marc Johnston, Attys., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., also entered appearances for appellants.

June D. W. Kalijarvi, Washington, D. C., with whom Ellen R. Delate, Washington, D. C., and George M. Chuzi, Washington, D. C., were on the brief, for appellee.

Before MacKINNON and WILKEY, Circuit Judges, and CORCORAN, [*] United States Senior District Judge for the District of Columbia.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge WILKEY.

WILKEY, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff/appellee Martha S. Freeman, a fifty-seven year old white female, brought this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972. 1 She alleged that she was discriminated against by defendant/appellant (the Department of Transportation and various components thereof), her employer. The district court 2 found that plaintiff had presented a prima facie case of race and sex discrimination and that defendant had failed to meet the "burden of persuasion" which had been shifted to it. It therefore held for plaintiff. We reverse.

We note that the issues before us for review are limited, and our reasons for reversal quite specific. We do not quarrel with the district court's implicit finding that there was no showing of age discrimination, 3 nor with its explicit findings that there were no acts of reprisal against plaintiff and no discrimination against her with regard to work assignments and training. 4 The only question left in this case is whether plaintiff was denied promotion-to a GS-12 level job and, later, to a GS-13 level job-on account of race or sex. We reverse because, first, we do not believe that plaintiff demonstrated a prima facie case of such discrimination, and second, because the district court improperly placed a burden of persuasion, rather than production, on defendant to refute any prima facie case.

The Supreme Court, in Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, recently outlined a three-part sequence of the "basic allocation of burdens and order of presentation of proof in a Title VII case

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alleging discriminatory treatment." 5 First, "plaintiff has the burden of proving by the preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination." 6 Second, the burden shifts to defendant " 'to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's rejection.' " 7 Third, plaintiff then has an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the reasons articulated by defendant were but "a pretext for discrimination." 8 We turn first, then, to plaintiff's failure here to make a prima facie case, and later to the district court's failure to shift the proper burden to defendant under the second part of the Burdine test. Burdine had not yet been decided at the time the district court was pondering the case at bar, hence we have the advantage of illumination denied the district judge.

I. ABSENCE OF A PRIMA FACIE CASE

The elements of a prima facie case were set out seminally in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green. 9 Last year, in Bundy v. Jackson, 10 Chief Judge Wright outlined the proper way in which to apply the McDonnell Douglas test to promotion cases.

Adjusting the McDonnell formula to cases of discriminatory refusal to promote is relatively simple. Thus to make out a prima facie case the plaintiff must show (1) that she belongs to the protected group, (2) that she was qualified for and applied for a promotion, (3) that she was considered for and denied the promotion, and (4) that other employees of similar qualifications who were not members of the protected group were indeed promoted at the time the plaintiff's request for promotion was denied. 11

The district court concluded that plaintiff was qualified for a promotion to level GS-12 effective June 1976, 12 and to level GS-13 effective June 1978, 13 and that she was discriminatorily denied the promotions. But if we apply the McDonnell/Bundy test, as the district court should have, 14 it is apparent

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that plaintiff has failed even to make a prima facie case.

The most obvious problems involve McDonnell/Bundy requirements # 2 and # 4. In particular, did plaintiff apply for the promotions, and were other members outside the protected group promoted at the time plaintiff's requests for promotion were denied?

With respect to the alleged delay in her promotion to GS-12, it appears from the trial record that only one vacancy occurred between the time she became eligible for that grade and when she was actually promoted to it, and that promotion apparently went to a white female. 15 Thus, plaintiff has clearly failed requirement # 4 here.

We are left then with whether plaintiff showed a prima facie case of discrimination in not being promoted to GS-13 at some point after June 1978, when she became eligible for the position. The district court found in its eighth and fifteenth Findings of Fact that plaintiff never applied for any position outside the GS "career ladder," 16 and, again in its eighth Finding of Fact, that the career ladder extends only up to the GS-12 level. Thus it appears that plaintiff can show no prima facie case for her GS-13 non-promotion because she fails McDonnell/Bundy requirement # 2: she did not apply 17 for the position she sought. 18

We are left with no claim by plaintiff for which-under the district court's Findings of Fact-a prima facie case could be made. Indeed, on reading the trial court's Findings of Fact we are left with the distinct impression that plaintiff was fairly treated and had no discrimination of which to complain. The court's Conclusions of Law following then came as a distinct surprise.

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Instructions on Remand

Although it appears very likely on the record that plaintiff cannot show a prima facie case, we are hesitant to reverse without remand when we are not the factfinders. On remand, however, we expect the district court to find for defendant unless it can point to evidence faulting one or both of these statements:

1. The only person promoted to a GS-12 level position which plaintiff was qualified for but denied was also a white female.

2. Plaintiff was required to apply for promotion to the GS-13 level job to which she claims to be entitled, but did not.

If both are true, then the district court must dismiss plaintiff's action.

We note that even if one or both are not true, there remain other serious questions about whether McDonnell/Bundy requirements # 2 and # 4 have been met. With respect to the application requirement in # 2, it may be that even the GS-12 promotion required at least bringing the matter of the denied promotion to some superior's attention. 19 To the extent some action-whether a formal application or not-was required on plaintiff's part for either promotion, if it was not performed then she has no prima facie case. Moreover, it is unclear whether plaintiff demonstrated that a vacancy was available in the first place for either promotion or, in the alternative, that one was unnecessary. 20

There also remain questions about the qualification requirement in # 2:

The Supreme Court has noted that, as part of a prima facie case, the plaintiff must demonstrate that (her) rejection did not stem from "an absolute or relative lack of qualifications." A plaintiff who demonstrates that (she) possesses the absolute minimum qualifications for a job, therefore, does not necessarily make out a prima facie case; if the employer has indicated that certain additional qualifications are necessary or preferred, the plaintiff must demonstrate that (she) has those qualifications as well. 21

Similarly, we have held that "plaintiff may be required to go beyond a showing of minimum qualifications to demonstrate that (she) possesses whatever qualifications or background experiences the employer has indicated are important." 22 Thus, the district court should look to see whether defendant has, as a matter of course, required service of a certain length of time 23 or some other qualification before promotion. 24 Since plaintiff actually did receive the GS-

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12 promotion, she must show that the rate at which she was promoted was slower than the rate at which members similarly situated but outside of her class were promoted. Discrimination cannot exist in a vacuum; it must be relative to the way someone else is treated. Plaintiff conceded this principle at oral argument. It would be anomalous indeed to find a prima facie case of discrimination without some showing of this element.

Finally, if no one was promoted to the GS-12 level during the time plaintiff says she should have been, plaintiff has also failed to meet McDonnell/Bundy requirement # 4.

II. BURDEN OF ARTICULATION OR PRODUCTION

We think that the district court also erred when it concluded that a showing by plaintiff of a prima facie case shifted not just a burden of production but a burden of persuasion to defendant. We discussed 25 that Burdine outlined a three-part sequence for the "basic allocation of burdens and order of presentation of proof" in Title VII cases. First plaintiff shows a prima...

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