Williams v. Cerberonics, Inc., Nos. 88-3971

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore WINTER, HALL and PHILLIPS; K.K. HALL; PHILLIPS
Citation871 F.2d 452
Decision Date13 April 1989
Docket NumberNos. 88-3971,88-3984
Parties49 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 695, 49 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 38,856, 57 USLW 2611 Karen A. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CERBERONICS, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellee. Karen A. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. CERBERONICS, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellant.

Page 452

871 F.2d 452
49 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 695,
49 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 38,856, 57 USLW 2611
Karen A. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CERBERONICS, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellee.
Karen A. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CERBERONICS, INCORPORATED, Defendant-Appellant.
Nos. 88-3971, 88-3984.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fourth Circuit.
Argued Jan. 10, 1989.
Decided March 21, 1989.
Rehearing and Rehearing In Banc Denied April 13, 1989.

Page 453

Brian Paul Phelan (Robert V. Varnum, Mary Jean Fassett, Mehler, Frantz, Conlon, Knapp, Phelan & Varnum on brief), for plaintiff-appellant.

Stephen W. Robinson (Michael F. Marino, McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe, on brief) for defendant-appellee.

Before WINTER, HALL and PHILLIPS, Circuit Judges.

K.K. HALL, Circuit Judge:

Karen A. Williams appeals the district court's judgment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e, et seq., that her employer, Cerberonics, Inc., did not terminate her on the basis of race or in retaliation for her filing of a discrimination charge. She also appeals the district court's entry of judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("j.n.o.v.") in favor of Cerberonics on her 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981 discrimination and retaliatory discharge claims. Finding no error, we affirm.

I.

Williams is a black female who was employed by Cerberonics, a defense contractor, from July, 1979, until her termination in February, 1983. She was employed as an instructor in Cerberonics' Aviators Breathing Oxygen ("ABO") Program. The Program was under contract with the Navy and its purpose was to maintain and test high altitude breathing apparatus for Navy pilots. Williams' job was to instruct Navy personnel on how to conduct this maintenance and testing. Instruction was conducted in Naval installations and on aircraft carriers around the world.

The ABO Program itself was a small, close-knit operation of between seven to ten employees based in Lexington Park, Virginia. While other black employees worked for brief periods with the Program, Williams was the only black continuously employed in the group from 1979 until mid-1982. Her immediate supervisor in the program was Bernard A. Neuman. Neuman's supervisor was the department manager, Wayne R. Hay. The division manager, the person with ultimate hiring and firing authority in the program, was John R. Ludes. All of these supervisory personnel are white.

It is readily apparent from the record in this case that ill feelings existed between Williams and Neuman. The animosity between the two was attested to by both parties' witnesses. Williams testified that Neuman treated her more demandingly than he did other, white employees. She claimed that he singled her out for criticism, particularly in regard to tardiness in reporting for work and use of the telephone for personal calls. Neuman denied these charges and testified that Williams had a "negative attitude" and was "defiant" to constructive criticism from her superiors.

Page 454

Cerberonics produced evidence that other employees were disciplined for abuse of telephone privileges and evidence that Williams' tardiness was chronic. Williams' poor attitude was corroborated by both Hay and Michael Goddard, a white male who was Neuman's assistant. Both of these witnesses, along with Neuman, testified that Williams' attitude infected her relationships with her coworkers.

Williams' difficulties were also reflected in teaching evaluations by her students. Although a majority of the evaluations was favorable, the percentage of unfavorable evaluations that she received was higher than that of her co-instructor. Also, criticisms of her performance became more frequent during the latter part of her tenure.

Moreover, Cerberonics produced a voluminous record of contemporaneously written memoranda documenting numerous incidents of Williams' misconduct. Two of these incidents deserve mention.

In March of 1980, Williams was in Yokosuka, Japan, conducting training on the carrier Midway. A small fire started in her hotel room when one of her bed pillows came into contact with a space heater. Williams became belligerent toward the hotel personnel and refused to acknowledge any responsibility for the incident. As a result, an argument ensued and the situation disintegrated to the point where the local police were called and criminal charges were filed against Williams. Neuman, who was on assignment in the Philippines, had to fly to Japan to apologize to the hotel management and defuse the potentially embarrassing situation.

An equally telling incident occurred in September, 1982, at the Naval base in San Diego, California. There, Williams persisted in parking in an officer's reserved space after Neuman had ordered her not to do so. An unpleasant confrontation resulted where Neuman eventually ordered Williams to return to the home office.

Shortly after the San Diego incident, Hay began to prepare an Employee Change Notice, placing Williams on probation. Although Williams had received a favorable job evaluation as recently as October, 1981, Hay felt that probation was necessary due to her declining job performance, poor attitude, and difficulty with coworkers. Approximately at the same time, also prompted by the San Diego incident, Williams decided to file a discrimination complaint against Neuman and Cerberonics with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations ("MCHR"). The complaint was subsequently filed on November 4, 1982.

On November 23, Hay and Neuman met with Williams to counsel her over her continued tardiness; however, Hay did not inform her that he was considering placing her on probation. By mid-December Williams' performance had not improved and the final decision was made by Hay to place her on probation. At the time Hay made this decision, he was not aware of Williams' discrimination charge. After the decision was approved by Hay's superiors, she was notified of the probation on January 6, 1983.

The probationary status did little to change Williams' behavior. The record shows that her tardiness became more frequent and her abuse of the telephone continued. Only four days after being placed on probation, she became involved in a shouting altercation with one of her coworkers. One month later, on February 4, 1983, Goddard confronted Williams concerning her continued excessive personal use of the telephone. The situation came to a head two weeks later when Williams was fired after another incident over the telephone.

While at work on the afternoon of February 18, 1983, Williams received a phone call from her attorney. She took the call in an unoccupied conference room. While talking to her attorney, Williams was discovered by Hay. After refusing to tell Hay about the nature of the call, she was ordered to Ludes' office to meet with Ludes, Neuman, and Hay. After repeated questioning from her superiors, Williams finally admitted that the call was a personal one, from her attorney. Ludes immediately suspended her and she was terminated four days later.

Page 455

Shortly thereafter, Williams filed an application for unemployment compensation with the Employment Security Administration of the Maryland Department of Human Resources. Her application was denied based on a finding that she was fired for misconduct. Williams also filed an unsuccessful complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Upon receiving her right-to-sue letter, she filed this action.

Initially, Williams alleged both race and sex discrimination in her employment and termination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e, et seq.), 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981, and 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. She also claimed that she had been unlawfully discharged in retaliation for filing the discrimination charge with MCHR. After extensive discovery, the trial court dismissed Williams' Sec. 1983 claim, her claims of sex discrimination, and her related claim that she was discriminated against in not receiving timely promotions.

In this posture, the case proceeded to a concurrent jury trial on the Sec. 1981 claims and bench trial on the Title VII claims. After a three and one-half day trial, the jury returned a verdict in Williams' favor, awarding her $15,000 in back pay and $35,000 in compensatory damages. The trial court took Williams' Title VII claims under advisement.

Cerberonics immediately filed a motion for j.n.o.v., or, in the alternative, for a new trial. On February 10, 1988, the trial court found for Cerberonics on the Title VII claims and entered j.n.o.v. in its favor on the Sec. 1981 claims. In the alternative, the district court granted Cerberonics' motion for a new trial. This appeal followed.

II.

Appellant's contentions are easily stated. She maintains that the trial court erred in finding for Cerberonics on her Title VII claims and that it erred in entering j.n.o.v. on her Sec. 1981 claims. She argues that the district court did not properly consider the evidence in reaching either conclusion. 1 We address the Title VII claims first.

Appellant made two claims under Title VII: that she was fired by Cerberonics because of her race, and that she was fired in retaliation for having filed a discrimination charge with MCHR. We turn our attention to the discrimination claim.

A. Discrimination

For a plaintiff to prevail on a discrimination claim, she must first establish a four-part prima facie case:

(1) that she is a member of a protected class;

(2) that she was qualified for her job and her job performance was satisfactory;

(3) that, in spite of her qualifications and performance, she was fired; and

(4) that the position remained open to similarly qualified applicants after her dismissal.

McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973); Holmes v. Bevilacqua, 794 F.2d 142, 146 (4th Cir.1986) (en banc); Smith v. Univ. of N.C., 632 F.2d 316, 332 (4th Cir.1980). Once this prima facie case...

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  • Moss v. City of Abbeville, Civil Action No. 8:09-cv-01859-PBH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • July 15, 2010
    ...by showing close temporal proximity between the adverse employment decision and the protected activity. Williams v. Cerberonics, Inc., 871 F.2d 452, 457 (4th Cir.1989) (While evidence as to the closeness in time "far from conclusively establishes the requisite causal connection, it certainl......
  • Iskander v. Dep't of the Navy, No. 7:12–CV–270–D.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
    • July 7, 2015
    ...issue of material fact concerning pretext.See, e.g., Holland, 487 F.3d at 216–18 ; King, 328 F.3d at 149 : Williams v. Cerberonics, Inc., 871 F.2d 452, 459 (4th Cir.1989) ; Smith v. Flax, 618 F.2d 1062, 1067 (4th Cir.1980). Similarly, the opinion of Iskander's former co-workers Miller and S......
  • Mandsager v. Univ. Of North Carolina at Greensboro, No.1:00 CV 01018.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • July 1, 2003
    ...a prima facie retaliation case. Tinsley v. First Union Nat. Bank, 155 F.3d 435, 443 (4th Cir.1998). Compare Williams v. Cerberonics, Inc., 871 F.2d 452 (4th Cir.1989) (holding three month time period between protected activity and termination sufficient to satisfy the causation element of t......
  • Ferguson v. Waffle House, Inc., Civil Action No. 9:12–1740–SB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • May 7, 2014
    ...reasons for the Defendant's actions are merely pretext for 18 F.Supp.3d 713discrimination. See Williams v. Cerberonics, Inc., 871 F.2d 452, 456 (4th Cir.1989) (“As we have previously held, a plaintiff's own assertions of discrimination in and of themselves are insufficient to counter substa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
654 cases
  • Moss v. City of Abbeville, Civil Action No. 8:09-cv-01859-PBH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • July 15, 2010
    ...by showing close temporal proximity between the adverse employment decision and the protected activity. Williams v. Cerberonics, Inc., 871 F.2d 452, 457 (4th Cir.1989) (While evidence as to the closeness in time "far from conclusively establishes the requisite causal connection, it certainl......
  • Iskander v. Dep't of the Navy, No. 7:12–CV–270–D.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
    • July 7, 2015
    ...issue of material fact concerning pretext.See, e.g., Holland, 487 F.3d at 216–18 ; King, 328 F.3d at 149 : Williams v. Cerberonics, Inc., 871 F.2d 452, 459 (4th Cir.1989) ; Smith v. Flax, 618 F.2d 1062, 1067 (4th Cir.1980). Similarly, the opinion of Iskander's former co-workers Miller and S......
  • Mandsager v. Univ. Of North Carolina at Greensboro, No.1:00 CV 01018.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
    • July 1, 2003
    ...a prima facie retaliation case. Tinsley v. First Union Nat. Bank, 155 F.3d 435, 443 (4th Cir.1998). Compare Williams v. Cerberonics, Inc., 871 F.2d 452 (4th Cir.1989) (holding three month time period between protected activity and termination sufficient to satisfy the causation element of t......
  • Ferguson v. Waffle House, Inc., Civil Action No. 9:12–1740–SB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court of South Carolina
    • May 7, 2014
    ...reasons for the Defendant's actions are merely pretext for 18 F.Supp.3d 713discrimination. See Williams v. Cerberonics, Inc., 871 F.2d 452, 456 (4th Cir.1989) (“As we have previously held, a plaintiff's own assertions of discrimination in and of themselves are insufficient to counter substa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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