Davenport v. Riverview Gardens School Dist.

Decision Date07 July 1994
Docket NumberNo. 93-2032,93-2032
Citation30 F.3d 940
Parties65 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 488, 65 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 43,180, 93 Ed. Law Rep. 138 David DAVENPORT, Appellant, v. RIVERVIEW GARDENS SCHOOL DISTRICT, A Six Director School District, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

William P. Russell, St. Louis, MO, argued, for appellant.

Clifford Alan Godiner, St. Louis, MO, argued (Thomas E. Tueth, on the brief), for appellee.

Before McMILLIAN, Circuit Judge, FLOYD R. GIBSON, Senior Circuit Judge, and FAGG, Circuit Judge.

McMILLIAN, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff David Davenport appeals from a final judgment entered in the United States District Court 1 for the Eastern District of Missouri granting summary judgment in favor of defendant Riverview Gardens School District. Davenport v. Riverview Gardens School Dist., No. 4:92CV173, 1993 WL 735793 (E.D.Mo. Jan. 14, 1993). For reversal, plaintiff argues that the district court (1) erred in granting summary judgment to defendant on his Title VII race discrimination claim, (2) abused its discretion in denying plaintiff's motion to amend the first amended complaint, and (3) abused its discretion in granting defendant's motion for sanctions. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. Background

Plaintiff, an African-American male, was employed by defendant as a probationary 2 middle school physical education teacher and coach of the freshmen boys' basketball team for four school years from August 1986 to June 1990. Plaintiff also directed the intramural sports program and taught sex and health education during his employment with defendant. During the summer of 1988, plaintiff applied for the position of varsity baseball coach. The position was given to a white male. Defendant offered plaintiff the position of assistant baseball coach, which he declined. During plaintiff's last year of employment, 1989-90, plaintiff was notified by letter from the school superintendent that his contract would not be renewed for the 1990-91 school year for the following reasons: (1) he displayed poor sportsmanship when he "ran up" his team's basketball score against another school, and then was insubordinate when his superiors attempted to discuss the matter with him; (2) after an "away" basketball game, he gave permission to some of his players to stay at the "away" school, in violation of a school policy; (3) at a meeting with the middle school principal and other physical education teachers, plaintiff displayed an adversarial and confrontational attitude toward the principal; and (4) he allowed two students to watch an intramural basketball game despite a school rule prohibiting spectators at intramural events. 3

In January of 1992, plaintiff brought this action in federal court alleging that defendant, by failing to renew his contract, unlawfully discriminated against him on account of his race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and 42 U.S.C. Secs. 1981 and 1983. The district court found the original complaint facially defective and ordered plaintiff to amend the complaint. Plaintiff filed a first amended complaint alleging three causes of action: (1) discriminatory discharge, (2) discriminatory denial of the head baseball coach position, and (3) conspiracy to deny plaintiff his civil rights. In October of 1992, defendant filed a motion to dismiss on grounds that the first amended complaint did not comply with the court's previous order; defendant also moved to compel discovery and requested sanctions. On December 4, 1992, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. By order dated December 14, 1992, the district court dismissed the second and third counts of the first amended complaint without prejudice, leaving only plaintiff's Title VII discriminatory discharge claim remaining. 4 The district court also ordered that any future motions for leave to amend the complaint be in writing and meet certain requirements. 5 Finally, the district court ordered plaintiff to pay a portion of defendant's attorneys' fees and costs associated with the motion to dismiss and the motion to compel discovery, which the district court also granted. Davenport v. Riverview Gardens School Dist., No. 4:92CV173 (E.D.Mo. Dec. 14, 1992).

A bench trial on plaintiff's discriminatory discharge claim was set for January 19, 1993. On January 6, 1993, less than two weeks before trial, plaintiff moved for leave to amend the first amended complaint. By order dated January 14, 1993, the district court denied plaintiff's motion for leave to amend and granted defendant's outstanding motion for summary judgment because plaintiff had failed to come forward with evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could infer unlawful discrimination. Id. (Jan. 14, 1993).

Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied. Plaintiff then timely noticed this appeal. The notice of appeal stated that plaintiff was appealing from the "order [of the district court] granting summary judgment entered on January 14, 1993." The notice of appeal did not specifically identify the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for leave to amend the complaint or the district court's imposition of discovery-related sanctions as distinct issues on appeal.

II. Discussion

Plaintiff asserts three arguments on appeal. First, plaintiff argues that the district court erred in granting summary judgment on his Title VII claim of discriminatory discharge because he established a prima facie case of intentional employment discrimination and presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute on the issue of pretext. Second, plaintiff contends that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for leave to amend the first amended complaint. Third, he maintains that the district court abused its discretion in granting defendant's motion for sanctions.

A. Title VII claim

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo. The question before the district court, and this Court on appeal, is whether the record, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-53, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (Celotex ). The district court granted summary judgment for defendant on plaintiff's Title VII claim for the following stated reasons: plaintiff failed to prove a prima facie case of race discrimination, he failed to prove that the reason given for his discharge was pretextual, and defendant is entitled to summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's race discrimination claim. Slip op. at 9 (Jan. 14, 1993).

As to plaintiff's proof of his prima facie case, the district court agreed with defendant's argument that plaintiff could not meet his burden with respect to two of the four elements of the prima facie case. Id. at 5. On the second element, which the district court referred to as "adequate job performance," the district court considered the four alleged infractions which defendant cited as grounds for denying plaintiff's contract renewal; because plaintiff did not dispute the fact that the alleged incidents occurred, the district court apparently concluded that plaintiff had failed to make a sufficient showing on the second element. Id. at 5-6. This determination by the district court was analytically flawed for several reasons. First, recognizing that the prima facie case in discrimination cases varies somewhat with the specific facts of each case, Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253-54 n. 6, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1093-94 n. 6, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981) (citing McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802 & n. 13, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824 & n. 13, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973) (McDonnell Douglas )), we believe that the second element in the present case should have been phrased in terms of whether plaintiff was "qualified" for his position. See, e.g., St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, --- U.S. ----, ----, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 2747, 125 L.Ed.2d 407 (1993) (in race discrimination case, for unlawful demotion and discharge, plaintiff established second element of prima facie case by showing that he was qualified for the position); Hase v. Missouri Div. of Employment Sec., 972 F.2d 893, 896 (8th Cir.1992) (Hase ) (in age and gender discrimination case, for unlawful failure to promote, plaintiff established second element by showing she met the minimum qualifications for the position). Second, by requiring plaintiff to disprove the alleged conduct violations in order to establish his prima facie case, the district court essentially required plaintiff, at the outset, to disprove defendant's alleged business reasons for its adverse employment action--in other words, to prove pretext and the ultimate issue of intentional discrimination. The prima facie burden is not so onerous. See Johnson v. Arkansas State Police, 10 F.3d 547, 551 (8th Cir.1993) (threshold of proof necessary to make a prima facie case is minimal and district court improperly conflated prima facie case with ultimate issue). Third, taken to its logical extreme, the district court's reasoning could have ended the inquiry prematurely, thus denying plaintiff the opportunity to show that, even if these incidents did occur, defendant unlawfully responded by treating plaintiff differently from others who were similarly situated, on account of his race. We hold that plaintiff did show that he was qualified for the teaching and coaching positions which he had held for several years, and that he therefore met his burden of establishing the second element of his prima facie case, at least to the extent necessary to withstand a motion for summary judgment.

As to the fourth element, the district court erroneously believed that plaintiff was...

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