Williams v. Williams Electronics, Inc., 87-2357

Citation856 F.2d 920
Decision Date07 September 1988
Docket NumberNo. 87-2357,87-2357
Parties47 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. 1585, 47 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 38,302 Rosie WILLIAMS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. WILLIAMS ELECTRONICS, INC., et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)

Susan Marie Connor, Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff-appellant.

Mark L. Shapiro, Rudnick & Wolfe, Chicago, Ill., fordefendants-appellees.

Before CUMMINGS, COFFEY, and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

Rosie Williams appeals from the district court's order entering summary judgment in favor of Williams Electronics, Inc. in a racial discrimination case Williams brought under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. Secs. 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981. We affirm.


In November, 1983, Williams Electronics, Inc. laid off Rosie Williams, a black woman, from her position as an electronics technician in Williams Electronics' engineering department. This layoff was part of a November 4, 1983, reduction in force (RIF) occasioned by operating losses Williams Electronics suffered from a strong downturn in video games sales. As a result of this RIF, 70 of Williams Electronics' salaried employees were laid off. In the engineering department two of six electronics technicians were laid off. Rosie Williams and an Hispanic technician were the technicians laid off, while four white technicians retained their positions. Rosie Williams was the most senior electronics technician at the time of the RIF.

The decision concerning which employees were to be laid off was made by the engineering vice president, Ron Crouse. Crouse had not personally observed or supervised the work of any of the electronics technicians. Therefore, he instructed the Director of Engineering, Don Hassler, to recommend the employees of the Engineering Department that were to be laid off. Hassler's recommendations were to be based upon Hassler's "judgment as to which employees would best keep the department running after the reduction in staff," and not upon seniority. Hassler made his recommendations with the advice and concurrence of the head of mechanical engineering, Walter Smolucha. Hassler and Smolucha both stated that they had an opportunity to observe firsthand the work of all six engineering technicians. 1 Based upon their alleged observations, Hassler and Smolucha determined that Williams was "not as technically competent as the four electronics technicians retained. Specifically, she was not as proficient in the trouble-shooting of microprocessing electronic circuitry." 2 Accordingly, Hassler recommended to Crouse that Rosie Williams be laid off, and Crouse followed this recommendation.

Rosie Williams had not been counselled concerning her job performance at any time immediately prior to her layoff. However, Williams Electronics claims it gave pay raises based upon performance in November 1982. During that period Rosie Williams received a mere 2.6 percent wage increase, while the other electronics technicians received increases ranging from 8.3 to 9.7 percent. However, Rosie Williams stated that the group leader advised her that her increase had been limited by budgetary constraints.

Rosie Williams claimed that her observations of the work of other electronics technicians led her to believe that she performed her work as well or better than they did. However, she was unaware of the specific qualifications and expertise of her fellow technicians. Rosie Williams also offered an affidavit of a former Williams Electronics' supervisor, Fred Griffin, who stated that he had observed Rosie Williams' work and that he had found her to be a good trouble-shooter and one of the company's best employees. Griffin's affidavit did not specifically compare Williams' performance to that of the four retained technicians. He also stated that he believed that Rosie Williams' reduction resulted from racial discrimination.

Following her layoff, Rosie Williams received a letter of recommendation from her group leader, Chuck Bleich, dated November 28, 1983, stating that she was a competent employee. Rosie Williams believed that Bleich earlier had given her inferior work assignments on a racially discriminatory basis. However, Bleich was not involved in the decision to lay off Williams. Rosie Williams also had heard from another employee that some of her fellow technicians had said that a black person should not be working as an electronics technician. None of these individuals were involved in the layoff decision.


This case presents us with the same application of Title VII disparate treatment methodology in the context of a summary judgment as was involved in Beard v. Whitley County, REMC, 840 F.2d 405, 409-410 (7th Cir.1988). In Beard we described our responsibilities in reviewing a grant of such a summary judgment in the following fashion:

"A motion for summary judgment should be granted only when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we must view the record and all inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 994, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962); Illinois v. Bowen, 808 F.2d 571, 574 (7th Cir.1986). However, when confronted with a motion for summary judgment, a party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleading, but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual allegations that there is a genuine issue of material fact which requires trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The party must do more than simply 'show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.' Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (footnote omitted). 'Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party there is no "genuine issue for trial." ' Id. at 587, 106 S.Ct. at 1356 (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89, 88 S.Ct. 1575, 1592, 20 L.Ed.2d 569 (1968)). 'The court should neither "look the other way" to ignore genuine issues of material fact, nor "strain to find" material fact issues where there are none....' Secretary of Labor v. Lauritzen, 835 F.2d 1529, 1534 (7th Cir.1987) (quoting Mintz v. Mathers Fund, Inc., 463 F.2d 495, 498 (7th Cir.1972))."

Beard, 840 F.2d at 409-410.

In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact is present we must consider both the substantive law of employment discrimination and the burdens of proof applicable under this law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 252-256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 2512-2514, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). The United States Supreme Court has set forth a specific scheme for allocating the burdens and order of proof in a Title VII disparate treatment case. 3 Initially, "the [employee] has the burden of proving by the preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case ofdiscrimination." Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 252-253, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1093-1094, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). In the case of a reduction in force, a prima facie case is established with a "showing that [the employee] was within the protected [class], that [the employee] was performing according to his employer's legitimate expectations, that [the employee] was terminated, and that others not in the protected class were treated more favorably." 4 Once a prima facie case has been demonstrated to the satisfaction of the court, "the burden shifts to the [employer] 'to articulate some legitimate nondiscriminatory reason' " 5 for its action. This burden is only one of production, as the "ultimate burden of persuading the trier of fact that the [employer] intentionally discriminated against the [employee] remains at all times with the [employee]." Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253, 101 S.Ct. at 1093. If the employer carries its burden of production, the employee has "an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the legitimate reasons offered by the [employer] were not its true reasons, but were a pretext for discrimination." Id. (quoting McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 804, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1825, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973)). A pretext may be demonstrated "either directly by persuading the court that a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer or indirectly by showing that the employer's proffered explanation is unworthy of credence." Burdine, 450 U.S. at 256, 101 S.Ct. at 1095. In the case of either method of proof the evidence must, in the final analysis, demonstrate that race "was 'a determining factor, in the sense that [the employee] would not have been [laid off] "but for" [the] employer's motive to discriminate against [the employee] because of [race].' " Dale v. Chicago Tribune Co., 797 F.2d 458, 464 (7th Cir.1986) (quoting La Montagne v. American Convenience Products, Inc., 750 F.2d 1405, 1409 (7th Cir.1984) (citations omitted)). See also North v. Madison Area Association for Retarded Citizens, 844 F.2d 401, 406 (7th Cir.1988); Germane v. Heckler, 804 F.2d 366, 368 (7th Cir.1986) (Noting that in Title VII disparate treatment case ultimate determination is whether discriminatory intent was a "but for" cause of the adverse action).

As the district court correctly noted, there is little doubt that Rosie Williams and Williams Electronics respectively satisfied the first two portions of the disparate treatment proof allocation scheme. Rosie Williams made out a prima facie case by demonstrating that she was black, that she was evidently performing in a basically satisfactory fashion, 6 that she was...

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