Sasser v. Salt Lake City Corp., 052019 FED10, 17-4198

Docket Nº:17-4198
Opinion Judge:Gregory A. Phillips Circuit Judge
Party Name:QUENTIN L. SASSER, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. SALT LAKE CITY CORPORATION, a Utah municipal corporation; DAVID TERRY, in his individual capacity; LYNN LANDGREN, in his individual and official capacity, Defendants - Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before BACHARACH, BALDOCK, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:May 20, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
 
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QUENTIN L. SASSER, Plaintiff - Appellant,

v.

SALT LAKE CITY CORPORATION, a Utah municipal corporation; DAVID TERRY, in his individual capacity; LYNN LANDGREN, in his individual and official capacity, Defendants - Appellees.

No. 17-4198

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

May 20, 2019

D.C. No. 2:15-CV-00606-DN, (D. Utah)

Before BACHARACH, BALDOCK, and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.

ORDER AND JUDGMENT [*]

Gregory A. Phillips Circuit Judge

For years, Quentin L. Sasser, an African American, worked as a seasonal employee at several of the Salt Lake City Corporation's (City) municipal golf courses. In spring 2011, Sasser applied for a full-time position as the First Assistant Professional at the City's Mountain Dell Golf Course. At the time, Sasser was the only African American that the City's Golf Division had ever hired. Sasser was not selected for an interview, and the position was eventually filled by a white applicant. This suit followed, alleging that the City had racially discriminated against Sasser by failing to promote him to the position. The district court granted summary judgment in the City's favor, holding that Sasser had failed to establish that the City's stated reasons for denying him the position were pretextual. Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

BACKGROUND

The City's Golf Division manages six1 golf courses in the greater Salt Lake City area. Sasser worked as a part-time seasonal employee at two of these courses over two separate periods: from 1993 to 2000 and from 2006 to 2012. In 1993, he took a position at Wingpointe Golf Course caring for golf carts and gathering golf balls on the driving range. Sasser proved himself, and for the next six-and-a-half seasons (i.e., through 2000), he worked at Wingpointe as a Golf Starter, assisting with pro-shop and driving-range operations.2 Meanwhile, in 1997, Sasser began pursuing his PGA certification, which he eventually achieved in 2006-becoming Utah's sole African American PGA-certified professional.

For much of his employment with the City, Sasser worked under the direct supervision of Lynn Landgren-Wingpointe's Head Professional and a longtime fixture of Utah's golfing community. Starting in 1995, Landgren opened a file on Sasser in which he documented Sasser's missteps-the only such file that Landgren ever maintained in his 28 years with the City's Golf Division.3 Landgren later claimed that he had maintained the file as a defensive measure, fearing that Sasser might "pull[] the race card" and initiate litigation in response to any disciplinary action. Appellant's App. vol. 5 at 959:17-18. The file documented nine negative observations from October 1994 to May 1998, such as no-shows and failures to ring up golf lessons. Landgren discussed only some of these observations with Sasser.

In September 1995, Tammy Nakamura, head of a golf association comprised primarily of Japanese Americans, complained about Sasser's conduct at an event at Wingpointe. Nakamura recalled offering to help Sasser and two other starters whom she overheard struggling to pronounce her Japanese associates' names. According to her, the starters rudely declined, and Sasser quipped that it would be better if the players had American names. Nakamura found the remark "extremely inappropriate," especially for a starter in "direct contact with the public." Id. vol. 3 at 631. When Sasser went to inform Landgren about the incident, Landgren stated that he'd already received a complaint about Sasser's comment. Yet, rather than discipline Sasser, Landgren simply added Nakamura's complaint and a handwritten note[4] to Sasser's file. Landgren didn't document any similar problems after 1995.

In August 2000, Sasser resigned his position at Wingpointe for a management opportunity as Tournament Director at Coral Canyon Golf Course, a private facility in St. George, Utah. Sasser worked at Coral Canyon until 2002, when he accepted a position at Fore Lakes Golf Course, a private golf facility in Salt Lake City. Sasser taught golf lessons and helped with maintenance at Fore Lakes until October 2006.

In November 2006, Landgren rehired Sasser as a Golf Starter5 at Wingpointe. After that, Sasser didn't return as a Golf Starter because Landgren claimed that he "didn't have . . . any space available" in the pro shop. Id. vol. 2 at 374:353 (12-13). Instead, for the next three seasons, Sasser worked at Wingpointe as a Golf Teaching Professional and assisted on an as-needed basis in the pro shop. Sasser then accepted an "unskilled" maintenance job at Wingpointe as a Golf Groundskeeper during the 2010 and 2011 seasons-working for the first time under the supervision of someone other than Landgren. Id. vol. 3 at 635. Meanwhile, from 2008 through the 2011 season, Sasser taught junior golf lessons at Nibley Park Golf Course.

After returning to work for the City in 2006, Sasser applied-unsuccessfully- for promotions to three full-time positions. In 2007, Sasser applied for an Assistant Professional position (likely for either Forest Dale or Nibley Park golf courses), and the City's Golf Director, David Terry, selected him for an interview. Sasser ranked last among the interviewees, however, and didn't advance to the second round. Later, in 2010, Sasser applied for the Head Professional position at Nibley. This time, Sasser didn't get an interview, because he lacked the minimum qualifications for the position, i.e., a four-year degree. Ultimately, Jeremy Green, a longtime Assistant Professional at both Wingpointe and Mountain Dell Golf Courses, was selected for the position.

In February 2011, Sasser applied for an Assistant Professional position at Mountain Dell, leading to the hiring process at issue in this litigation. According to the online job posting, an Assistant Professional manages course-play, practice-range, and pro-shop operations while providing administrative backup and teaching golf lessons. Applicants were prompted to manually fill out an online application form, listing personal information and relevant employment history, and to upload a resume. Despite having extensive relevant experience, Sasser omitted much of it from his online application. Indeed, Sasser listed just two previous jobs in the application, both of which he described as maintenance/teaching positions: his job at Fore Lakes from 2002 to 2006 and his job at Wingpointe from 2006 onward (even though he was a Golf Starter in 2006).[6] Sasser also listed his PGA certification.

Sasser was one of 28 individuals who applied for the Assistant Professional position. Of those 28 applicants, five (including Sasser) encountered a software issue that prevented them from uploading a resume with their application. Terry noticed these omissions and reached out to two of the applicants-Jeremy Miller and J.Z. Davis-to correct the discrepancy. Miller and Davis, both white, had worked for years in pro shops at City golf courses as Golf Starters and/or Golfer Relations Specialists. Terry didn't similarly contact the other three applicants (two white applicants and Sasser) who had encountered issues in submitting resumes.

Terry assembled a four-person hiring panel to review applications for the position: himself, Landgren, Michael Brimley (Head Professional at the City's Mountain Dell Golf Course), and Derek Schmehl (Head Professional at the City's Rose Park Golf Course). Terry directed the other panelists to independently review application materials and to rank their top-ten candidates "based on how well the candidate[s'] skills and experience match the responsibilities listed in the attached job description." Id. vol. 2 at 341. From this initial ranking, eight candidates would be selected for interviews.

In the panelists' initial rankings, only Terry listed Sasser as a top-ten candidate (ranking him tenth). As a result, Sasser wasn't selected for an interview. Terry later justified his ranking based on what he perceived as Sasser's lack of recent pro-shop experience, which he considered critical for the position. Id. at 313:20-24 (explaining that Sasser had been "spending very little time, if any, . . . working in a pro shop"). Landgren worried that Sasser "comes over a little hard to people" and is "[a] little rough," which isn't ideal in a pro-shop environment. Id. vol. 3 at 662:8-14. Brimley, for his part, commended Sasser for his playing and teaching skills, but he thought that Sasser lacked sufficient knowledge of software used in the pro shop (i.e., point-of-sale and tournament software) to be an Assistant Professional "[a]t this point in his career." Id. at 646:5-21. Meanwhile, Schmehl found the experience listed on Sasser's online application-maintenance work and teaching golf-irrelevant.

All four panelists ranked the same nine candidates in their top-ten lists, so they...

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