Kim v. Coppin State College, 79-1386

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Citation662 F.2d 1055
Docket NumberNo. 79-1386,79-1386
Parties27 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 1, 27 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 32,198, 1 Ed. Law Rep. 101, 9 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 417 Daniel KIM and Richard Bright, Appellants, v. COPPIN STATE COLLEGE; Calvin W. Burnett, individually and as President of Coppin State College; J. Carson Dowell, Chairman; H. Gray Reeves; Edgar F. Berman; George M. Brooks; Charles H. Foelber; Victor Frenkil; A. Harris Grossman; Joyce R. Phillips; James A. Sensenbaugh; George T. Stansbury; The Honorable J. Millard Tawes, individually and constituting the Board of Trustees of the State Universities and Colleges of Maryland, Appellees.
Decision Date26 October 1981

Glen Marcus Fallin, Baltimore, Md., for appellants.

William A. Kahn, Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore, Md. (Stephen H. Sachs, Atty. Gen. of Maryland, Baltimore, Md., on brief), for appellees.

Before WINTER, Chief Judge, and RUSSELL and WIDENER, Circuit Judges.

WINTER, Chief Judge:

Plaintiffs, two members of the faculty of Coppin State College in Baltimore, appeal from the district court's directed verdict in favor of defendants issued after the jury failed to reach a determination of their claims of discrimination in compensation, promotion and other working conditions under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 (1976) and from the district court's findings that defendants did not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1976). We affirm the judgment of the district court on the issues of promotion and other working conditions, but vacate the judgment on the issue of alleged discrimination in the compensation of plaintiffs and remand the case for a new trial.


Coppin State College in Baltimore, Maryland, is a college predominantly attended by blacks, and its administration is dominated by blacks, although there are a substantial number of whites on the faculty. The defendant college president, Calvin W. Burnett, Ph.D., is black. Plaintiff, Daniel Kim, Ph.D., a full professor at Coppin State since 1970, was born in Korea and is of Asian extraction. Plaintiff, Richard Bright, Ph.D., an associate professor at the school since 1969, is white.

Plaintiffs originally filed charges with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on June 26, 1974, apparently alleging discrimination in their working conditions. 1 The Commission dismissed the charges and issued a right to sue letter. Plaintiffs thereupon sued Coppin State, Burnett and the Board of Trustees of the State Universities and Colleges of Maryland on February 4, 1977, alleging discrimination in promotion, compensation and other working conditions in violation of the Reconstruction Civil Rights Acts, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 (1976), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1976). Plaintiffs do not contest the district court's dismissal of the Maryland's university trustees from the case or its dismissal of the §§ 1981 and 1983 claims against the college.

Professors Kim and Bright sought to prove at trial, among other things, that the college administration impermissibly discriminated against them because of their race with respect to telephone service, secretarial assistance, office space, reimbursement for travel expenses, the preparation and administration of a National Science Foundation grant, sabbatical leave, promotion and compensation. The jury failed to reach agreement on a verdict, and the district court declared a mistrial. Defendants moved for a directed verdict, which the district court granted, incorporating its findings as the trier of fact of the claims under Title VII. It determined that plaintiffs had failed to substantiate many of their allegations, that some were barred by limitations, that they had failed to rebut the legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons offered by defendants to justify their actions as required by Title VII, and that they had failed to establish the discriminatory purpose of defendants' actions as required by the Reconstruction Civil Rights Acts. Plaintiffs have circumscribed their contentions on this appeal. They assert that the district court applied an improper legal standard in granting the directed verdict, that substantial issues of material facts remained in controversy with respect to compensation, promotion and sabbatical leave, that the district court's findings under Title VII were clearly erroneous, that it improperly excluded evidence, and that they are entitled to attorneys' fees as prevailing parties in the litigation.


At the outset, the different legal standards applicable to this case should be noted. Under plaintiffs' Reconstruction Civil Rights Acts claims, the jury served as the trier of fact, and, in order to prevail, plaintiffs had the burden of proving Dr. Burnett's discriminatory purpose in taking employment actions adverse to them. 2 Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 96 S.Ct. 2040, 48 L.Ed.2d 597 (1976). Under their Title VII claims, the district court served as the trier of fact, and, in order to prevail, plaintiffs had the burden of proving employment discrimination. Under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), and its progeny, the college could dispel the inference of discrimination raised by plaintiffs' showing of disparate treatment by demonstrating legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions, which plaintiffs in turn could rebut by exposing such reasons as mere pretexts.

The Title VII findings of the district court can only be reversed on appeal if they are clearly erroneous. That would be also true of a jury verdict on the Reconstruction Civil Rights Acts claims. In this case, however, the district court directed a verdict for defendants after the jury failed to agree on a verdict.

Plaintiffs argue that a directed verdict is appropriate only under circumstances identical to that under which summary judgment is appropriate, so that it may not be granted unless no genuine issue of material fact remains after resolving all conflicting inferences in the evidence in their favor. The legal standards for directed verdicts and summary judgment are indeed similar, but they are sufficiently distinct in a way that bears on this case. In considering a motion for summary judgment, the district court must give the benefit of the doubt to the party who asserts he can prove a dubious proposition at trial. In considering a motion for a directed verdict, in contrast, the district court has had the benefit of seeing what the parties alleged they could prove prior to trial tested in the crucible of open court. Accordingly, the district court is entitled to grant a directed verdict even though some evidence supports the opposite position so long as "there are no controverted issues of fact upon which reasonable minds could differ." Proctor v. Colonial Refrigerated Transp., Inc., 494 F.2d 89, 93 (4 Cir. 1974); Pogue v. Retail Credit Co., 453 F.2d 336, 338 (4 Cir. 1972), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 1109, 93 S.Ct. 910, 34 L.Ed.2d 689 (1973); Wachovia Bank & Trust Co. v. United States, 288 F.2d 750, 757 (4 Cir. 1961); see also Krotkoff v. Goucher College, 585 F.2d 675 (4 Cir. 1978); Walker Mfg. Co. v. Dickerson, Inc., 560 F.2d 1184, 1188 (4 Cir. 1977). Consequently, it was appropriate for the district court in this case to consider the evidence presented without straining to find inferences supporting the plaintiffs' position in every shred produced.


On appeal plaintiffs have limited their allegations of discrimination to the issues of sabbatical leave, promotions and compensation. Plaintiffs failed to introduce any evidence that Professor Bright ever applied for sabbatical leave, much less suffered discrimination from its denial. Professor Kim applied for two sabbatical leaves during his tenure at Coppin State. He was granted such leave in 1966-67, and he was denied leave in 1976-77. He testified that he was entitled to the leave, but was unable to demonstrate that anyone else received leave that year, and if so, that the denial of leave to him was discriminatory. The college maintained at trial that it did not grant any sabbatical leaves in 1976-77 because it needed its full complement of staff during an accreditation review conducted that year.

On appeal plaintiffs point to an exhibit introduced by defendants that indicates that Professor Leroy Fitzgerald, a black, received an "HEW fellowship" in 1977. The references to this fellowship in the exhibit are cursory; it is difficult to draw even an inference that Professor Fitzgerald was excused from his teaching responsibilities during 1976-77 as a result. Indeed, Professor Kim's own testimony distinguished the various forms of leave available, including sabbatical leave, which entailed compensation by the college at one-half salary during the period, and a "study leave" "funded by the Title III program." Although plaintiffs failed to develop this issue at trial, it is apparent that the Title III leave referred to by Professor Kim stems from Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965, 20 U.S.C. § 1051 et seq. (1976), under which the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) provided fellowships to faculty members at institutions like Coppin State for both teaching and research. 20 U.S.C. § 1054.

We think this evidence amply supports a finding of no discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a directed verdict on the §§ 1981 and 1983 claims. Plaintiffs simply failed to adduce sufficient evidence that discrimination played any role in the denial of Professor Kim's sabbatical leave in 1976-77. Even assuming Professor Fitzgerald received leave in that year, the leave taken was not sabbatical leave, but rather leave fully funded by the federal government. In addition, it is by no means clear on this record that Professor Fitzgerald's "HEW fellowship" interrupted his teaching duties,...

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