Lujan v. Franklin County Bd. of Educ.

Decision Date17 June 1985
Docket NumberNo. 84-5397,84-5397
Citation766 F.2d 917
Parties38 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 9, 37 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 35,337, 54 USLW 2014, 26 Ed. Law Rep. 93 Joe L. LUJAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. FRANKLIN COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Mary Juanita Presley, Robert Belton (argued), Nashville, Tenn., for plaintiff-appellant.

Ben P. Lynch (argued), Winchester, Tenn., for defendants-appellees.

Before CONTIE, Circuit Judge, and PHILLIPS and CELEBREZZE, Senior Circuit Judges.

CONTIE, Circuit Judge.

Joe Lujan appeals the district court's judgment in favor of the defendants, the Franklin County Board of Education and Howard M. Hannah, the former Superintendent of Schools of Franklin County, Tennessee. Lujan's complaint alleged that the defendants' failure to hire him as the head football coach at Franklin County High School violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e et seq. The complaint also alleged a claim under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. The district court's decision is reported at 584 F.Supp. 279 (E.D.Tenn.1984). We affirm.


Joe Lujan, who is of black and hispanic parentage, was first employed by the Board of Education in 1949. At that time, Franklin County operated segregated schools and Lujan worked at Townsend High School, an all black school. From 1949 to 1966, Lujan, in addition to his teaching duties, was the head football and basketball coach at Townsend. Litigation to force desegregation began in the early 1960's and led to the closing of Townsend High in 1966. See Hill v. Franklin County Board of Education, 232 F.Supp. 671 (E.D.Tenn.1964). The Board gave Lujan a comparable teaching position at the newly desegregated Franklin County High School, a formerly all white school. Since the Board of Education did not need two head football and basketball coaches at one school, it employed Lujan as an assistant coach for those sports. The district court found that although Lujan's coaching supplement was unchanged, his responsibilities were substantially less at Franklin County High than they had been at Townsend.

In 1971 and 1979, the Board had openings for a head basketball coach at Franklin County High and Huntland High, respectively. In both instances, the Board hired Rodney Rogers, who is white. The Board did not advertise or take formal applications for these positions but instead hired Rogers through rather informal procedures. The coaching position at issue in this case became open during the 1978-79 school year when the Board decided not to renew the contract of its then current head football coach. The Board publicized the opening by having stories placed in several newspapers. A total of 17 persons, including Lujan, applied for the job. The Board narrowed the field to a group of five to eight applicants for further evaluation. Lujan, and all other assistant coaches who applied for the vacancy, were among this group. Superintendent Hannah checked the applicants' references and made a recommendation to the Board. After interviewing the entire group of finalists, the Board followed Hannah's recommendation and hired Harold "Red" Roberts, who is white.

The district court held that Lujan's Sec. 1983 claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that only Lujan's Title VII claim for the failure to hire him as head football coach in 1979 would be considered. Lujan does not challenge this ruling on appeal. Allocating the burden of proof in accordance with Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981), the court found that the defendants had offered a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the decision to choose Red Roberts over Lujan and that Lujan failed to prove that the reasons asserted by the Board were pretextual. Accordingly, judgment was entered for the defendants. See 584 F.Supp. at 281-82.


Lujan does not challenge the district court's factual findings as being clearly erroneous. Rather, he argues that the district court evaluated this case under improper legal standards. Specifically, he argues that school personnel displaced or demoted as a result of desegregation are entitled to what have become known as "Singleton rights." See Singleton v. Jackson Municipal Separate School District, 419 F.2d 1211 (5th Cir.1969) (en banc), rev'd in part on other grounds sub nom. Carter v. West Feliciana Parish School Board, 396 U.S. 290, 90 S.Ct. 603, 24 L.Ed.2d 530, cert. denied, 396 U.S. 1032, 90 S.Ct. 611, 24 L.Ed.2d 530, opinion on remand, 425 F.2d 1211 (5th Cir.1970) (en banc). These Singleton rights, Lujan asserts, include a right to be offered the first vacant job which would place him in a position comparable to that which he held prior to desegregation. Second, he asserts that in employment discrimination cases against schools which historically have been segregated, the burden of persuasion, and not merely the burden of production, shifts to the defendant if the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of discrimination. Finally, Lujan argues that the defendants did not articulate a legally sufficient nondiscriminatory reason for not hiring him.


In Singleton, the Fifth Circuit prescribed certain general provisions to be used in desegregation injunctions. With regard to faculty and staff displacements, injunctions were to provide:

If there is to be a reduction in the number of principals, teachers, teacher-aides, or other professional staff employed by the school district which will result in a dismissal or demotion of any such staff members, the staff member to be dismissed or demoted must be selected on the basis of objective and reasonable nondiscriminatory standards from among all the staff of the school district. In addition if there is any such dismissal or demotion, no staff vacancy may be filled through recruitment of a person of a race, color or national origin different from that of the individual dismissed or demoted, until each displaced staff member who is qualified has had an opportunity to fill the vacancy and has failed to accept an offer to do so.

Prior to such a reduction, the school board will develop or require the development of non-racial objective criteria to be used in selecting the staff member who is to be dismissed or demoted. These criteria shall be available for public inspection and shall be retained by the school district. The school district also shall record and preserve the evaluation of staff members under the criteria. Such evaluation shall be made available upon request to the dismissed or demoted employee.

"Demotion" as used above includes any reassignment (1) under which the staff member receives less pay or has less responsibility than under the assignment he held previously, (2) which requires a lesser degree of skill than did the assignment he held previously, or (3) under which the staff member is asked to teach a subject or grade other than one for which he is certified or for which he has had substantial experience within a reasonably current period. In general and depending upon the subject matter involved, five years is such a reasonable period.

See 419 F.2d at 1218 (emphasis added).

Lujan contends, and the district court found, that the diminution in his coaching responsibilities following desegregation constituted a "demotion" and that he was generally qualified for the head coaching position which became open in 1979. These findings, Lujan argues, are sufficient to compel the conclusion that he was entitled to the job of head football coach in 1979. The district court held, however, that Singleton rights may not be asserted in an action brought solely under Title VII.

Although we agree with the district court, we expand somewhat upon its reasoning. First, we conclude that Lujan has failed to show that he had any Singleton rights, or, stated differently, that the Board was subject to the duties imposed in Singleton. Second, even had those rights and duties attached, they could not be enforced in Title VII litigation.


For a number of years, court opinions have contained loose language referring to Singleton rights as if those rights rested upon a constitutional or statutory footing. See Cousin v. Board of Trustees of Houston Municipal Separate School District, 726 F.2d 262, 267 (5th Cir.1984) (collecting cases). Other courts have correctly observed, however, that Singleton rights arise only by virtue of an injunction using the principles expressed in Singleton. In a case in which the plaintiff argued that Singleton rights are of constitutional dimension, the Fifth Circuit held that these

arguments rest on a misapprehension of the nature of the Singleton provisions relating to displacements caused by integration. Singleton entitlements are not constitutional rights. Both the requirement that displacements be affected only in accordance with written, objective criteria and the requirement that displaced personnel be given a right of first refusal of subsequent vacancies are standards of conduct imposed upon school boards under court order. They are aspects of equitable remedies, designed by this court under its general equitable power to fashion relief for constitutional violations ... in accordance with principles of fairness and with a minimum of hardship to persons affected by large scale, court-ordered social change.

Hardy v. Porter, 546 F.2d 1165, 1168 (5th Cir.1977).

The Fifth Circuit authoritatively clarified the nature of Singleton rights in Cousin. The defendant school system in that case had begun voluntary desegregation before the imposition of any court order. As a result of this voluntary action, the plaintiff was demoted. See 726 F.2d at 264. After the demotion, a lawsuit was filed and desegregation then proceeded under a court order which contained the Singleton prescriptions. The injunction was dissolved approximately sixteen...

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