Meredith v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 92-3288

Decision Date21 March 1994
Docket NumberNo. 92-3288,92-3288
Citation18 F.3d 890
Parties64 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 473, 62 USLW 2613 Janis E. MEREDITH, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. BEECH AIRCRAFT CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Amicus Curiae.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

Alan L. Rupe (Barbara Scott Girard with him on the briefs) of Alan L. Rupe Law Offices, P.A., Wichita, KS, for plaintiff-appellant.

Kathryn A. Gardner (Larry B. Spikes with her on the brief) of Martin, Pringle, Oliver, Wallace & Swartz, Wichita, KS, for defendant-appellee.

Mary L. Clark (Donald R. Livingston, Gen. Counsel; Gwendolyn Young Reams; Vincent J. Blackwood, with her on the brief), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Washington, DC for amicus curiae.

Before LOGAN and BRORBY, Circuit Judges, and SEAY, * Chief District Judge.

BRORBY, Circuit Judge.

This case comes to us after the district court granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of Beech Aircraft Corporation ("Beech" or "Company") in a Title VII, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e et seq., sex discrimination in employment action. Ms. Meredith appeals the order, and we exercise jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1291. We reverse in part and affirm in part.

Janis Meredith, a former employee at Beech Aircraft Corporation, alleges sex discrimination in employment. 1 She claims Beech discriminated against her when it failed to promote her to the position of group leader of the department, when it gave her a less than adequate evaluation, and when it finally terminated her employment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Beech on each of these claims.

In reviewing an order granting summary judgment, we must conduct a de novo review using the same standard the district court would use. Applied Genetics Int'l, Inc. v. First Affiliated Sec., Inc., 912 F.2d 1238, 1241 (10th Cir.1990). Summary judgment is only proper when no genuine issue of material fact is disputed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Beech is entitled to summary judgment if Ms. Meredith fails to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of the case to which she has the burden of proof. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In our review, we must look at the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, in this case Ms. Meredith. Boren v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co., 933 F.2d 891, 892 (10th Cir.1991).

BACKGROUND

The record, when viewed in the light most favorable to Ms. Meredith, reveals Ms. Meredith was denied a promotion to become group leader. Beech considered four employees, three women and one man, for the position of group leader. These four employees were Ms. Meredith, Ms. Charlene Montgomery, Ms. Dixie Adair, and Mr. Chuck Berry. Although Mr. Berry was the least qualified for the position, he was promoted to the position of group leader. When the position was given to Mr. Berry, Ms. Meredith contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Manager at Beech. Ms. Meredith, as well as Ms. Adair, then filed a complaint with the Kansas Commission on Civil Rights ("KCCR").

Three months after filing a complaint with KCCR, Ms. Meredith had her annual performance evaluation at Beech. Her performance was rated by Mr. Charles Switzer, the former group leader who had been promoted to Assistant Manager. Mr. Switzer had participated in the promotion of Mr. Berry, and Ms. Meredith claims he unfairly evaluated her in retaliation to the complaint she filed with the KCCR. While Ms. Meredith was accustomed to receiving favorable ratings in her evaluations, typically "above average" and "superior," the challenged evaluation rated Ms. Meredith as "meets expectations" in eighteen categories and "exceeds expectations" in five categories. In response to this evaluation, Ms. Meredith contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Manager again and filed a new complaint with the KCCR.

Mr. Switzer became ill and had to take an extended leave of absence from his position as Assistant Manager. Mr. Berry was promoted to fill this vacancy, and the promotion of Mr. Berry left the group leader position vacant. Beech again considered Ms. Meredith, Ms. Adair, and Ms. Montgomery for this position. Beech selected Ms. Montgomery Two months later, Ms. Meredith filed a civil rights action in district court alleging discrimination and retaliation. Shortly after, Ms. Adair also filed a Title VII suit against Beech. 2 During discovery in Ms. Meredith's suit against Beech, Ms. Meredith produced copies of handwritten annual performance evaluations of her coworkers from the years 1986 and 1987. Without permission, Ms. Meredith had taken these confidential records from a locked filing cabinet at Beech. One month after Beech learned of Ms. Meredith's improper possession of these documents, Beech discharged Ms. Meredith. Ms. Meredith then filed a third complaint with the KCCR and added the claim of wrongful discharge to her Title VII action.

as the new group leader although she had less experience than Ms. Meredith and Ms. Adair. Ms. Montgomery was the only one of the three women who had not filed a discrimination complaint against the Company.

DISCUSSION
A

Ms. Meredith sued Beech Aircraft Corporation for sex discrimination in the promotion of Mr. Berry to group leader over Ms. Meredith. The district court found Ms. Meredith had established a prima facie case of disparate treatment: (1) she was part of a protected class; (2) she applied for and was qualified for the promotion; (3) despite her qualifications she was rejected; and (4) the position was filled by a person not within the protected class. See Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1093, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). The burden then shifted to Beech to present a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the denial of the promotion. See Burdine, 450 U.S. at 254, 101 S.Ct. at 1094. Beech asserted Ms. Meredith was not promoted because she lacked the interpersonal, leadership, and communication skills necessary for the position. Once Beech expressed a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse action, the burden returned to Ms. Meredith to show the asserted reason is merely pretextual.

At this stage in the burden shifting analysis, Ms. Meredith invited the district court to consider Adair v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 782 F.Supp. 558 (D.Kan.1992). Adair was decided after a full bench trial in Ms. Adair's sex discrimination suit arising out of the same promotion of Mr. Berry. In Adair, the court determined Mr. Berry's promotion was gender based and any other reasons set forth by Beech were mere pretext for sexual discrimination. 782 F.Supp. at 563. The district court in Ms. Meredith's action relied on the Adair case to preclude Beech from claiming Mr. Berry's promotion was motivated by nondiscriminatory reasons and also to preclude Ms. Meredith from receiving a remedy. Both Beech and Ms. Meredith challenge the offensive use of issue preclusion by the district court against them. We review the use of collateral estoppel to bar relitigation of an issue de novo. Hubbert v. City of Moore, 923 F.2d 769, 772 (10th Cir.1991).

The district court used issue preclusion against Beech to determine Beech had discriminated. Relying on the issue preclusion requirements repeated in In re Lombard, 739 F.2d 499, 502 (10th Cir.1984), the facts are undisputed that (1) Beech was a party in the first suit, (2) Beech had a full and fair opportunity to defend the first action vigorously, (3) the issue in the Adair decision that Beech's choice to promote Mr. Berry was based on discrimination is identical to the issue to be determined in Meredith, and (4) Adair has been finally adjudicated on the merits. See also Parklane Hosiery Co. v. Shore, 439 U.S. 322, 332, 99 S.Ct. 645, 652, 58 L.Ed.2d 552 (1979); United States v. Rogers, 960 F.2d 1501, 1508 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 113 S.Ct. 817, 121 L.Ed.2d 689 (1992). The fact of Beech's discrimination was fundamental to the determination in Adair. We also note, no procedural differences between the two actions could lead to a different result on this issue. Courts generally have broad discretion in However, the court used Adair against Ms. Meredith as well. After finding a violation of Title VII, the district court determined Ms. Meredith was without a remedy under Title VII. The court used Adair v. Beech to reach this conclusion. The court reasoned Adair had resolved that Dixie Adair was the most qualified for the position of group leader, therefore, Ms. Meredith would not have been promoted to group leader even absent discrimination. The court declared Ms. Meredith is therefore without a remedy and her claim should be dismissed.

using offensive estoppel, and offensive estoppel against Beech was proper in this case.

We disagree with the district court's use of offensive collateral estoppel against Ms. Meredith who was not a party to the Adair suit. Collateral estoppel has been defined as, "when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit." Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 443, 90 S.Ct. 1189, 1194, 25 L.Ed.2d 469 (1970). The use of collateral estoppel fails here simply because Ms. Meredith was not a party to the first suit. See Ten Mile Indus. Park v. Western Plains Serv. Corp., 810 F.2d 1518, 1523 (10th Cir.1987). The plaintiffs in the two law suits are not identical and are not in privity with one another. For this reason, Ms. Meredith did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the prior law suit. Also, the issue of Ms. Meredith's remedies was not adjudicated in the Adair case.

We reject Beech's arguments that the court did not use collateral estoppel against Ms. Meredith but instead applied the basic requirements of stare decisis and judicial notice. This is...

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