Adams v. Nolan, 91-1489

Decision Date23 April 1992
Docket NumberNo. 91-1489,91-1489
Citation962 F.2d 791
Parties58 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 1189, 58 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 41,430 Charlotte ADAMS, Appellant, v. William P. NOLAN, Chief of Police, North Little Rock Police Department, Jack Faulkner, Chairman, North Little Rock Civil Service Commission, Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Willard Proctor, Little Rock, Ark., argued, for appellant.

Randall W. Morley, N. Little Rock, Ark., argued, for appellees.

Before McMILLIAN and JOHN R. GIBSON, Circuit Judges, and HUNTER, * Senior District Judge.

McMILLIAN, Circuit Judge.

Charlotte Adams ("plaintiff") appeals from a final judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in favor of defendants North Little Rock Police Department ("NLRPD"), North Little Rock Police Chief William P. Nolan, and Jack Faulkner, Chairman of the North Little Rock Civil Service Commission (collectively "defendants"), following a bench trial on the merits of her claim of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). Adams v. Nolan, No. LR-C-90-183 (E.D.Ark. Feb. 26, 1991). For reversal, plaintiff argues that the district court erred in holding that (1) despite evidence of intentional discrimination, defendants successfully proved that they would have followed the same course of action regardless of their illegal animus and thus were not liable under Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 109 S.Ct. 1775, 104 L.Ed.2d 268 (1989) (Price Waterhouse ); and (2) plaintiff failed to establish unlawful discrimination under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973) (McDonnell Douglas ), because she was unable to show that she was treated differently from individuals outside her protected class who were similarly situated to her. For the reasons discussed below, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Background

Plaintiff was employed as a patrol officer with the NLRPD on June 20, 1988. On March 28, 1989, plaintiff informed her supervisor, Lieutenant Ronald Burks, that she was pregnant and her expected due date was in November. In April 1989, she provided a physician's letter to Lieutenant Burks indicating that she was pregnant, that she should be assigned to lighter work duty, and that she would need six weeks of maternity leave at the end of her pregnancy. Plaintiff's request for a lighter duty assignment was denied under an NLRPD leave policy, General Order C87-019G.

The NLRPD implemented General Order C87-019G in September 1987 after two other female police officers with the NLRPD, Leslie Houser and Kristen Rickard, had become pregnant. Officer Houser, the first to become pregnant, was given light duty work due to her pregnancy. However, when Officer Rickard informed her supervisor of her pregnancy on September 14, 1987, she was told that she could not be assigned light duty work under a new leave policy which, at that time, had not yet been formally implemented. 1 Two weeks later, on September 28, 1987, General Order C87-019G was formally implemented. It provides in pertinent part:

Employees who suffer non-work related injury or illness that results in temporary disability including pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion, childbirth, and recovery thereof, will be granted use of accumulated sick leave, vacation leave, and/or other earned paid time off. Upon expiration of the aforementioned paid leave, the employee must take an unpaid leave of absence if additional time off is needed for recovery. Leave of absence will be granted in 30 day segments. Generally, a leave of absence must not extend beyond three continuous 30-day periods. Additional leave of absence may be granted at the discretion of the Chief of Police and Civil Service Commission. No light duty assignments will be made for employees due to non-work related injury or illness.

(Emphasis added.) Plaintiff testified that, at the time she informed Lieutenant Burks of her pregnancy, he stated to her that General Order C87-019G was adopted because of a "rash of pregnancies" at the NLRPD.

After plaintiff's request for light duty work was denied by the NLRPD, she sought review of her request by the North Little Rock Civil Service Commission. The Commission did not respond to her inquiries.

For the next several months, plaintiff continued to request light duty work assignments. For example, she requested a desk job that was available on a "fill in" basis when the regular person was unavailable. She was never given the desk assignment. During this same period of time, officers David Bertelin and Joe Bradley were allowed to fill in at the desk job because of temporary injuries that were not job-related. Another officer, Mike Arnold, was assigned the desk job for the month of August 1989 due to medical problems that were not job-related. Plaintiff and Sergeant Swain, her supervisor at the time, both testified that plaintiff had specifically requested the August desk assignment after she learned from Sergeant Swain that it would be available. The job was given to Officer Arnold instead.

As a result of the NLRPD's refusal to give her light duty work, plaintiff stopped working in early July 1989. Initially she took accumulated paid vacation days. When her vacation time expired on July 31, 1989, she took an unpaid leave of absence. She was on unpaid leave for a total of twenty-six weeks. After plaintiff returned to work, she was no longer a patrol officer but went to work in the NLRPD's Services and Support Division.

Plaintiff brought this action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in March 1990. She claims that defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). 2 Her case proceeded to trial on January 30, 1991. The case was tried as a disparate treatment case under McDonnell Douglas. In addition to analyzing the case under McDonnell Douglas, slip op. at 7-9, the district court also found direct evidence of discriminatory intent and analyzed the case under Price Waterhouse. Id. at 3-7. However, the district court held that under either McDonnell Douglas or Price Waterhouse, plaintiff failed to meet her ultimate burden of persuasion. Id. at 9-11.

On appeal, plaintiff argues that the district court clearly erred in its factual determinations and that she met her ultimate burden of proving sex discrimination under Title VII. We analyze this case under the McDonnell Douglas-Burdine 3 disparate treatment framework only. 4 Under this analysis, we hold that the district court committed errors of law and clear errors of fact.

Discussion

Under the familiar McDonnell Douglas-Burdine framework for analyzing employment discrimination cases based upon a disparate treatment theory, the analysis proceeds in three stages: (1) prima facie case; (2) nondiscriminatory reason(s); (3) pretext. See Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-53, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1093-94, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981) (Burdine ). First, plaintiff must establish her prima facie case. In other words, plaintiff "must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she applied for an available position for which she was qualified, but was rejected under circumstances which give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination." Id. at 253, 101 S.Ct. at 1094. This burden "is not onerous." Id. Specifically, in the present case, plaintiff had the initial burden of showing:

1) that she was in a protected category;

2) that she was qualified for and applied for a light duty assignment;

3) that she was denied the light duty assignment; and

4) that after she was denied the assignment, the position remained open to persons of her qualifications. 5

See id. at 253 n. 6, 109 S.Ct. at 1792 n. 6 (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. at 1824).

There is no dispute that plaintiff established the first three elements of her prima facie case. As to the fourth element, the evidence in the record clearly shows that after plaintiff was denied the August 1989 desk position, it was assigned to Officer Arnold who himself had physical impairments unrelated to his job. The fact that the job was given to another patrol officer with non-work-related impairments, without any evidence that Officer Arnold was any more qualified for the desk job than plaintiff, is conclusive proof that the job remained open to others with qualifications similar to plaintiff's, which is all that was necessary for plaintiff to establish the fourth element of her prima facie case. An inference of unlawful discrimination was therefore established. See Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253-54, 101 S.Ct. at 1093-94.

Once plaintiff established her prima facie case, the burden then shifted to defendants "to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for denying plaintiff the assignment. Id. at 253, 101 S.Ct. at 1093, (citing McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. at 1824). Defendants' only evidence of a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the decision to deny plaintiff the August 1989 desk job was Lieutenant Burks' testimony that "it didn't fit within [the leave policy, General Order C87-019G,]" to give her the assignment.

We seriously question whether the leave policy itself even qualifies as a "nondiscriminatory" basis for defendants' actions. On its face, the order strongly suggests an intent to discriminate against women who are pregnant or have pregnancy-related conditions, which...

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