Hartsel v. Keys

Decision Date26 June 1996
Docket NumberNo. 94-3693,94-3693
Citation87 F.3d 795
Parties68 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 44,114 Ila HARTSEL, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Michael B. KEYS, individually and in his capacity as Mayor of the City of Elyria; the City of Elyria, Ohio; and the City of Elyria Utilities Department, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Ellen Simon Sacks (argued), Michael T. Pearson (briefed), Spangenberg, Shibley, Traci, Lancione & Liber, Cleveland, OH, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Stephen J. Gurchik (argued and briefed), Office of the Solicitor, Elyria, OH, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: JONES and BOGGS, Circuit Judges; and CHURCHILL, District Judge. *

BOGGS, Circuit Judge.

Ila Hartsel appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment for the defendants, the City of Elyria and the Elyria Utilities Department ("City") and Michael Keys, its mayor. Hartsel's suit arises from her failure to be promoted to Superintendent of the Utilities Department. She alleges discrimination on the basis of gender, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; discrimination on the basis of age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; and deprivation of her rights of speech and association under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, § 11 of the Ohio Constitution.

The defendants counter that Hartsel was not selected to be Superintendent because the City was about to implement a major computerization of the Utilities Department and that Hartsel had poor computer skills. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants because Hartsel failed to demonstrate an issue of material fact sufficient to rebut defendants' legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for not promoting Hartsel. Hartsel timely appeals.

For the reasons that follow, we find that Hartsel has failed to produce more than a scintilla of evidence supporting her claims under her various theories. Accordingly, we affirm the district court's decision.

I

Hartsel started working in the Elyria Utilities Department as a clerk-typist in March 1969. In 1977, she was promoted to office supervisor, where she worked under Joe Grace, the utility department's superintendent. Grace held the position of superintendent from 1969 until 1992. In early 1991, Hartsel performed many of the superintendent's duties when Grace missed work due to his wife's illness. Hartsel continued to perform many of these duties in April 1992, when Grace was absent due to his own poor health.

In the spring of 1991, Joe Grace's son, Billy, ran against Mayor Keys in a party primary election for mayor. Hartsel publicly supported Billy Grace and assisted the campaign with signs, calling voters, and sat with the Graces at a candidate debate. Keys defeated Grace in the May 1991 primary.

In 1992, Hartsel became uncomfortable fulfilling so many of Grace's duties in an unofficial capacity, and in late April 1992, she approached Safety-Service Director Tim Coey to discuss the problem of Grace's prolonged absence. After Coey discussed the issue with Mayor (and defendant) Michael Keys, she was promoted on May 1, 1992, to Acting Superintendent of the Utilities Department. The new position paid Hartsel approximately $13,000 more than her salary as office supervisor.

Hartsel claims that, in late 1992, Coey had told her that Keys "was very upset" when he saw her sitting with Bill Grace at a campaign debate; Coey does not remember such a conversation. Joe Grace officially resigned on November 30, 1992, and Hartsel expressed her desire to remain as superintendent permanently, first to Coey, and then to Keys. The mayor indicated that he expected to make a final decision on the appointment around the first of the new year.

Tom Brand, a forty-three-year-old deputy auditor in the city's auditing department, also expressed interest in the job. Brand, along with Grace, had played a major role in computerizing the installment department of Elyria's municipal court in 1986. In 1988, Brand had also played a prominent role in computerizing the whole municipal court, which required him to write specifications for the new system and to demonstrate the software to the employees who would use it. Brand had acquired additional computer knowledge by attending adult education classes at night, and he received training from Hewlett-Packard in conjunction with his computerization of the municipal court.

Hartsel met with Mayor Keys on December 21, 1992, to discuss the situation. Hartsel alleges that, during the meeting, Keys said three times that he was "99% sure" that he was going to appoint somebody with more computer experience and that he wanted her to stay on "and help the new man" because of her experience and skills. Hartsel interpreted this to mean that she would have to train her replacement, although nobody ever told her as much. Keys and Hartsel also discussed her possible retirement plans.

Hartsel claimed that she had heard through the "grapevine rumor mill" over the next few days that Brand was to be promoted to superintendent. During her Christmas vacation, Hartsel stewed over this information, until she concluded that going back to her job as office supervisor and training a less-qualified replacement would be "intolerable." When she returned to work on December 31, 1992, Hartsel submitted a letter of resignation at 9:45 a.m., effective midnight. Keys accepted her resignation at 10:00 a.m., but at 11:40 a.m., he reassigned Hartsel to her prior position as office manager and appointed Brand as Acting Superintendent, effective 11:00 a.m. Keys later justified this decision on the basis that he wanted to maintain a chain of responsibility over the building over the long New Year's weekend, that he was concerned about the abrupt nature of Hartsel's departure, and that Hartsel had returned her keys to the building. Coey was similarly "not thrilled about the idea of having an employee in charge who had after 20 some odd years of service given us a two-hour [sic] notice of resignation."

II

On June 10, 1993, Hartsel sued the City and Keys, claiming that the refusal to promote her to permanent Superintendent constituted a constructive discharge from her job. Defendants moved for summary judgment on January 31, 1994, and plaintiff filed motions and briefs in opposition. On May 27, 1994, the district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and an appropriate order was entered on May 31, 1994.

Judge Aldrich granted summary judgment on the age and sex discrimination claims because Hartsel failed to create an issue of material fact sufficient to rebut defendants' legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for not promoting Hartsel--that "the city sought a new superintendent with computer skills necessary to assist in the upgrade of computers in the Public Utilities Department." The district court noted that Hartsel did not dispute that Brand was more experienced with computers, and "[t]here is nothing illegal about seeking a candidate with the skills necessary to best perform the tasks ahead." Memorandum and Order May 26, 1994, at 17. Indeed, Hartsel's evidence actually supported the defendants' claim that Brand was hired to implement a new computer system--Elyria had purchased an expensive and complex computer and continues to implement the system. The court therefore granted summary judgment, finding that "none of Hartsel's evidence tends to show that the defendant's legitimate reason for its decision is unworthy of belief, or that discrimination was more likely the reason for the decision." 1 Id. at 19.

The district court also dismissed Hartsel's § 1983 claim of retaliatory discharge because she had "offered insufficient evidence for this Court to find that her political expression was a 'motivating factor' in the decision not to appoint her." Id. at 20. The district court described the causal connection between the mayoral primary in May 1991 and Keys's decision not to promote Hartsel in December 1992 as "extremely attenuated," particularly in light of his April 1992 decision to make her acting superintendent with a salary increase of $13,000. Hartsel's only evidence of discriminatory motive was Coey's alleged comment that Keys was upset with her, which the court discounted as a "mere scintilla of evidence" that would not prevent summary judgment. Id., at 21.

III

This court reviews de novo the district court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment. Baggs v. Eagle-Picher Industries, Inc., 957 F.2d 268, 271 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 975, 113 S.Ct. 466, 121 L.Ed.2d 374 (1992). This court must affirm the district court only if it determines that the pleadings, affidavits, and other submissions show "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). When evaluating this appeal, this court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

The moving party need not support its motion with evidence disproving the nonmoving party's claim, but need only " 'show[ ]'--that is, point[ ] out to the district court--that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2554, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The pivotal question is whether the party bearing the burden of proof has presented a jury question as to each element of its case. Id., 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. at 2552.

The plaintiff must present more than a mere scintilla of evidence in support of her position; the plaintiff must present "evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2512, 91...

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