774 F.2d 251 (8th Cir. 1985), 84-2348, Patterson v. Masem

Docket Nº:84-2348.
Citation:774 F.2d 251
Party Name:Ruth Polk PATTERSON, Appellant, v. Paul MASEM, Superintendent of the Little Rock School District, and Members of the Board of Education of the Little Rock School District, Individually and in their Official Capacities, Appellees.
Case Date:September 27, 1985
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 251

774 F.2d 251 (8th Cir. 1985)

Ruth Polk PATTERSON, Appellant,

v.

Paul MASEM, Superintendent of the Little Rock School

District, and Members of the Board of Education of

the Little Rock School District,

Individually and in their

Official Capacities,

Appellees.

No. 84-2348.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 27, 1985

Submitted April 11, 1985.

Page 252

John W. Walker, Little Rock, Ark., for appellant.

G. Ross Smith, Little Rock, Ark., for appellees.

Before ROSS and JOHN R. GIBSON, Circuit Judges, and COLLINSON, [*] Senior District Judge.

Page 253

JOHN R. GIBSON, Circuit Judge.

Ruth Polk Patterson appeals from an adverse judgment on her claim that the Little Rock School District impermissibly refused to appoint her to the position of Supervisor of English and Social Studies either because of her race or in retaliation for her exercise of her first amendment rights. Essentially she argues that the district court, 1 which concluded that neither of these factors substantially affected the employment decision, erred as a matter of law and was clearly erroneous in its factual findings. We affirm.

Ruth Patterson, who is black, had been employed by the Little Rock School District at the time of this suit for approximately twenty-two years. Of these she served fourteen solely as a teacher, three as a teacher with additional administrative duties, and four as a full-time administrator. In addition to a bachelor's degree, Dr. Patterson held a master's degree in English and a doctorate in American studies; she also had numerous publications to her credit. At the time she applied for the position of Supervisor of English and Social Studies, she held the position of Supervisor of Minority Studies.

In the spring of the 1979-80 school year, as part of her duties, Patterson was sent by Superintendent Paul Masem to Central High, one of the schools in the district, to mediate a growing controversy over the student production of the Moss Hart-George Kaufman comedy "You Can't Take It With You." Concern had been expressed that aspects of the casting and some language in the play might be racially offensive, and reports had been received that black students participating in the production were being harassed. The drama teacher agreed to expunge certain racially derogatory language, but left the decision whether to recast the play to eliminate what might be perceived as demeaning racial stereotypes to student vote. No recasting was done. Dr. Patterson viewed this compromise as inadequate and recommended to Superintendent Masem that the play be cancelled. Masem, in a later letter describing the incident, characterized her suggestion as neither "appropriate nor in good faith" and as going beyond her "limited assignment" to "effect a compromise so that [the] play could go on." The play eventually was performed.

At the end of the school year Dr. Patterson formally applied for the position of Supervisor of English and Social Studies, which became vacant due to retirement. Masem and another administrator had indicated to her earlier that she was in line for the position, and Masem recommended her to the Board. When it became apparent that a majority of the Board opposed the appointment, however, Masem withdrew his recommendation of Dr. Patterson and recommended Marvin Zimmerman. Zimmerman, a white male, ultimately was selected. There is no question that Zimmerman, while he did not have a doctorate degree and had experience in only one of the two academic disciplines within the jurisdiction of the position, also met the minimum requirements for the position. The Board appointed Patterson Supervisor of Human Relations.

Dr. Patterson brought suit under various civil rights statutes (42 U.S.C. Secs. 1981, 1983, 2000e-2 (1982) ) alleging that she had been discriminated against because of her race and that the Board had impermissibly retaliated against her for her exercise of free speech rights. After a two-day hearing Circuit Judge Richard Arnold, sitting as a district judge, denied her motion for a preliminary injunction. Judge Arnold noted, however, that "[t]he Court is persuaded that the trier of facts on the merits of this case would probably find that race was a factor," and therefore ordered that Zimmerman be given only the title of "acting" supervisor pending the outcome of the trial. Hearing on Motion for Preliminary Injunction at 173, 180, Patterson

Page 254

v. Masem, No. LR-C-80-372 (E.D.Ark. Aug. 8, 1980). The case was then assigned to Judge Henry Woods who, after accepting the record from the previous hearing and taking additional evidence, rendered judgment against Patterson. 2

I.

The pattern of proof for suits alleging race discrimination in employment is well established. First, a plaintiff must establish a "prima facie case" by proving a set of facts sufficient to give rise to an inference of discrimination. Second, the defendant has the burden to articulate a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the employment decision. Third, if these initial burdens are satisfied, the plaintiff is granted an opportunity to show that the justifications offered are but pretexts to conceal the employer's improper motivation. McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802-05, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824-26, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973); Kenyatta v. Bookey Packing Co...

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