Armstrong v. Index Journal Co.

Decision Date28 April 1981
Docket NumberNo. 79-1506,79-1506
Citation647 F.2d 441
Parties25 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 1081, 25 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 31,788 Martha ARMSTRONG, Appellant, v. INDEX JOURNAL COMPANY, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Victoria L. Eslinger, Columbia, S. C. (Ann L. Furr, Eslinger, Furr & Delgado, Columbia, S. C., on brief), for appellant.

J. E. McDonald, Greenwood, S. C. (Burns, McDonald, Bradford, Erwin & Patrick, Greenwood, S. C., on brief), for appellee.

Before HAYNSWORTH, Chief Judge, and BUTZNER and RUSSELL, Circuit Judges.

BUTZNER, Circuit Judge:

Martha Armstrong appeals the denial of her claim of sex-based employment discrimination brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against the Index Journal a daily newspaper. She complains that because of her sex she was assigned to a separate classification in the Journal's advertising department, called "special salesman." Armstrong asserts that this classification receives lower base pay and less desirable advertising accounts than the classification "regular salesman," which is held exclusively by men. She further charges that her complaints about this discriminatory treatment led to her discharge. We reverse the judgment of dismissal because the Journal failed to rebut her prima facie case with respect to the conditions of her employment and because the evidence disclosed that she was discharged in violation of § 704(a) of the Act for opposing the Journal's unlawful employment practices.


In August, 1974, the Journal ran a female help-wanted ad offering an "opening for lady in advertising department." Armstrong responded and was hired as a special salesman. Her predecessor and successor in this position were also women; no man has ever been hired for this job. The Journal advertised for its regular salesmen through male help-wanted ads. Only men have held the position of regular salesman.

During her employment in the newspaper's display advertising department, Armstrong performed the same tasks as the male salesmen. The department sells, writes, designs, and supervises the printing of advertising that appears in the newspaper. To that end each salesman, including the special salesman, services a number of accounts. Armstrong solicited new accounts, sold additional advertising to her present accounts, laid out ads, drew illustrations for ads, wrote copy, and helped advertisers budget their accounts. She also promoted special features, such as the bridal and home improvement editions. Three advertisers attested to the excellent manner in which she handled their accounts.

Like the regular salesmen, Armstrong had accounts of varying difficulty and profitability. Her easiest accounts were called service accounts. The advertiser did its own writing and layout with this type of account, and all Armstrong did was pick up copy, make occasional changes, and deliver the ad to the composing room. On the other hand, Armstrong was responsible for several accounts for which she did the entire writing, layout, and drawing. She handled contract accounts where advertisers agreed to place at least a minimum amount of advertising per month, as well as less lucrative open-rate accounts, where the advertiser bought space irregularly.

The regular salesmen performed the same tasks. There were no additional or different tasks assigned to regular salesmen from which Armstrong was excluded. Armstrong, however, performed additional work not required of the regular salesmen. Because she was the only person in the department with artistic ability, she assisted the regular salesmen when an ad required an in-house drawing. While the men were at lunch, she assisted walk-in advertisers and substituted for the dispatch clerk in addition to working on her own accounts.

The Journal admits that Armstrong handled about the same number of accounts as the regular salesmen. It asserts, however, that she handled a different mix of accounts. She was assigned, it claims, only large service accounts and small contract and open-rate accounts. The Journal argues that because ads for the service accounts were prepared by the customers and the smaller accounts provided little opportunity for increasing advertising lineage, Armstrong exercised little skill and therefore deserved less pay.

At no point during her employment, however, was Armstrong told that there were certain types of accounts she was not allowed to handle. No restrictions were put on her solicitation of new accounts. While the larger accounts were assigned by the advertising manager, for some accounts a notice was posted on the department bulletin board, and any salesman, including the special salesman, could volunteer to handle the account. Armstrong worked in the same room as the regular salesmen and attended departmental meetings where the salesmen collectively discussed ways of increasing advertising sales. During her employment, the regular salesmen were not even aware that Armstrong was classified as a special salesman. In fact, Armstrong often handled the accounts of regular salesmen when they were on vacation.

Armstrong was hired at the minimum base pay for any salesman, whether regular or special. Her base pay was increased four times. Nevertheless, throughout her employment she received a lower base salary than any of the regular salesmen, and the maximum base salary she could receive as a special salesman was substantially less than the maximum for regular salesmen. The ceiling on the base salary for her position was approximately $27 less per week than the ceiling for the male salesmen. Although Armstrong had not been employed long enough to reach the ceiling for her position, she knew that under the Journal's pay scale she could not receive the maximum amount paid to the male salesmen.

This pay differential between the two classifications of salesmen originated with Mary Crowder, Armstrong's predecessor as the special salesman. During her 14-year tenure, Crowder was paid a base salary less than the regular salesmen. Moreover, new regular salesmen were hired at a higher base pay than Crowder even though she had more sales experience. When she quit, because she could never attain the classification and pay of regular salesman, the advertising manager told her that he would replace her with a woman since no man would do the same job for the same money. The Journal then placed the female help-wanted ad to which Armstrong responded.

Armstrong complained a number of times about her job classification, the pay differential between the categories of salesmen, and a large service account that was assigned to her. Ultimately, these complaints led to her discharge under circumstances which we discuss in Part III.

After her discharge, Armstrong filed a timely complaint with the EEOC and instituted this action within 90 days of notice of her right to sue.


In its conclusions of law pertaining to Armstrong's complaints about the conditions of her employment, the district court addressed only the differential in base pay between the salesmen. It recognized that Armstrong's base pay was less than that of the regular salesmen. Nevertheless, referring to McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), the court held that even assuming that Armstrong had established a prima facie case, the Journal rebutted it by showing that "either lack of experience or difference in job responsibility account for any pay differential."

We conclude that by concentrating on the pay differential the district court applied incorrect legal principles. Section 703(a)(2) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(2), provides in part:

(a) It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual's , sex,

Therefore, contrary to the district court's ruling, the Act requires that the Journal's classification of its salesmen on the basis of sex as well as the pay differential, must be analyzed by the standards of McDonnell Douglas.

Viewed in this light, the record established a prima facie case of disparate treatment. Armstrong demonstrated that she was a member of a protected class, that she was employed in a job expressly limited to the protected class and that she was excluded from a higher paid classification whose duties she satisfactorily performed. The Journal's segregation of jobs by sex adversely affected her status as an employee and deprived her of the opportunity to reach the maximum salary payable to salesmen. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802 & n.13, 93 S.Ct. at 1824 & n.13 (1973).

Once Armstrong made out her prima facie case, the burden shifted to the Journal to "articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason " for the sex-based classification. McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802, 93 S.Ct. at 1824 (1973). As the Supreme Court explained in Furnco Construction Corp. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 577, 98 S.Ct. 2943, 2949, 57 L.Ed.2d 957 (1978), "the burden which shifts to the employer is merely that of proving that he based his employment decision on a legitimate consideration, and not an illegitimate one such as race."

The Journal's rebuttal of Armstrong's prima facie case rests on the contention that Armstrong's qualifications and job were not substantially equal to that of the male salesmen. The Journal claims that the males had more experience and education, that they exercised more skill, and that Armstrong's accounts were different from the accounts the males handled.

The Journal, however, had no specific qualifications with respect to either education or skill in entry level positions for either female or male salesmen. The sole difference in qualifications, as demonstrated by the...

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