867 F.2d 823 (4th Cir. 1989), 88-3022, Holder v. City of Raleigh

Docket Nº:88-3022(L), 88-3023.
Citation:867 F.2d 823
Party Name:Dec. P 38,718, Needham HOLDER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF RALEIGH; Jack C. Duncan, Defendants-Appellees. Needham HOLDER, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. CITY OF RALEIGH; Jack C. Duncan, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:February 14, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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867 F.2d 823 (4th Cir. 1989)

Dec. P 38,718,

Needham HOLDER, Plaintiff-Appellant,


CITY OF RALEIGH; Jack C. Duncan, Defendants-Appellees.

Needham HOLDER, Plaintiff-Appellee,


CITY OF RALEIGH; Jack C. Duncan, Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 88-3022(L), 88-3023.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

February 14, 1989

        Argued Nov. 2, 1988.

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        Burton Craige (Tharrington, Smith & Hargrove, Donnell Van Noppen, III, Smith, Patterson, Follin, Curtis, James & Harkavy, Raleigh, N.C., on brief), for plaintiff-appellant.

        William E. Moore, Jr. (Guy F. Driver, Jr., Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, Thomas A. McCormick, City Atty., Raleigh, N.C., on brief), for defendants-appellees.

        Before ERVIN and WILKINSON, Circuit Judges, and KISER, United States District Judge for the Western District of Virginia at Danville, sitting by designation.

        WILKINSON, Circuit Judge:

        Needham Holder, a black employee of defendant City of Raleigh, alleges that the City's Parks and Recreation Department discriminated against him on the basis of race, in violation of 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e, et seq., and 42 U.S.C. Secs. 1981 and 1983. The magistrate found that, while the City's promotion decision may have reflected "acts of nepotism," plaintiff suffered no discrimination because of his race. While a decision-maker's preference for friends or relatives may be relevant evidence in a Title VII disparate treatment case, we cannot conclude as a matter of law that such preferences constitute discrimination on the basis of race. We thus affirm the judgment of the trial court.


        In August of 1985, the City of Raleigh posted two job openings for the ground maintenance crew of the Parks and Recreation Department. The openings were for jobs as Equipment Operator I and Laborer I. Within a week of the posting, Holder applied for both jobs.

        Holder and four other applicants met the minimal requirements for the positions. Three of the applicants, Scott Johnson, Mike O'Neal, and plaintiff, applied for both of the posted positions, while the other two, James Wilson and John Bailey, applied only for Equipment Operator I. All five applicants were scheduled for interviews. The interviewers were Roy Eason, supervisor of the heavy equipment crew; James Michael Bridges, Building and Maintenance Supervisor; and Charles William Cooke,

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Assistant Superintendent of Parks. The three interviewers were white. In scoring the applicants, the panelists relied upon their subjective knowledge of the applicants, but not upon the applicants' personnel records or work histories.

        During Holder's interview, Michael Bridges asked Holder several questions which were confrontational in tone. Holder was also asked to produce his driving record which showed no violations during the five years preceding September 1985. No white applicant was asked to produce his driving record. No evidence was presented as to whether Bailey, the other black applicant, was asked for his record. Bridges also told Holder during the interview that he thought his answers were untruthful. This comment apparently diverged from routine interview practice, which was to refrain from a discussion of the answers until after the interview was over.

        The position of Equipment Operator I went to Scott Johnson, the highest scorer on the interview who was also the son of Don Johnson, a crew supervisor who reported directly to Michael Bridges. The position of Laborer I went to Mike O'Neal, the second highest scorer of the Laborer I applicants and the nephew of panelist Roy Eason. In September 1985, O'Neal was eighteen years old and had been employed by the City as a seasonal laborer for about three months.

        At the time of the interview Holder had worked for the City longer than either Johnson or O'Neal. He had more experience operating the City's heavy equipment than either Johnson or O'Neal. Holder had, in fact, assisted in training Johnson. Holder also had completed seventy-seven hours of instruction at the Wilson Technical Institute on the front-end loader and the hydraulic backhoe. Scott Johnson had not then completed any course in equipment operation, and Mike O'Neal told the interview panel that he had completed only the front-end loader course.

        Holder believed he had been the victim of racial discrimination. After exhausting both local and federal administrative remedies, he brought suit in federal court. The case was tried by consent before a magistrate. 28 U.S.C. Sec. 636(c). At trial the magistrate found that Holder had presented a prima facie case of racial discrimination under Title VII. Defendants then advanced several reasons for the decision not to promote Holder. The first was his interview score, which reflected the panelists' concern that Holder was untrustworthy. Bridges believed that Holder had given false answers to five of the twelve questions asked. Defendants also claimed that Holder was not promoted because of a poor attendance record. According to the findings of the magistrate, however, when Holder had been verbally warned about his attendance in 1980, his record improved. Similarly, defendants claimed that Holder lacked initiative. The magistrate, however, found no evidence of this in later investigations by City officials. Finally, defendants claimed administrative inconvenience. Holder's lateral transfer would have required the City to post a new job opening and conduct new interviews for the Laborer I position on another crew that Holder presently held.

        The magistrate held that the City had rebutted the plaintiff's prima facie case with two "clear and reasonably specific" reasons for their hiring decisions: interview scores and administrative convenience. The magistrate further found that although the reasons advanced by defendants may have been a pretext for "nepotism," Holder did not carry his ultimate burden of proving an intent to discriminate on the basis of race. This appeal followed.


        Holder maintains that a finding that the City's promotion decision may have been influenced by nepotism mandates judgment in his favor on his Title VII disparate treatment claim. While we share...

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