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Lucas v. Burnley

decided: July 24, 1989.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Claude M. Hilton, District Judge. CA No. 86-0743-A.

Ervin, Chief Judge, and Widener and Murnaghan, Circuit Judges.

Author: Ervin

ERVIN, Chief Judge

Appellant Julia Lucas challenges the district court's decision against her in a Title VII*fn1 employment discrimination action she brought against her employer, the Federal Aviation Administration. Ms. Lucas, who is white, alleges that her employer engaged in racial discrimination when it promoted Rosa Wright, a less qualified black, to the position of Quality Assurance and Training Specialist. Following a bench trial, the district court found in favor of the government, on the grounds that it had articulated a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its selection of Ms. Wright, and that appellant had failed to demonstrate that this reason was pretextual. While we hold that the district court erred in making some of its findings of fact, we affirm on the merits.

Lucas and Wright, who work for the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA"), both applied for a Quality Assurance and Training Specialist ("QATS") position at the Flight Service Station ("FSS") in Leesburg, Virginia. A total of nineteen people applied for two such positions. Two local managers at the Leesburg facility, Gary Wilson and Ken Johnson, selected four finalists for the jobs on the basis of personal interviews they conducted with all but one of the applicants.*fn2 Edward Dietz, the manager at the facility, made the final selections, and he chose Ms. Wright and Sharon Hall.

At trial Ms. Lucas presented evidence that Wright did not have a current Pilot Weather Briefing ("PWB") Certificate at the time of her selection. Such a certificate is a requirement for the QATS position. Lucas also presented evidence demonstrating the subjective nature of the interview process, as well as the fact that Wright had, in the past, been given preferential treatment by the Leesburg management. Appellant also presented the testimony of five other Leesburg employees, who stated that race could have been a factor in Ms. Wright's selection.

Following the presentation of Lucas' case, the trial court granted the government's Rule 41(b) motion for dismissal, finding that Ms. Lucas had not established a prima facie case. Lucas appealed, and we reversed and remanded for trial. Lucas v. Dole, 835 F.2d 532 (4th Cir. 1987) (Lucas I). Specifically, we found that Ms. Lucas had established a prima facie case of racial discrimination because she had introduced evidence showing: (1) the promotion of an unqualified black (Wright); (2) irregular acts of favoritism toward Wright; (3) the questionable use of a subjective interviewing process; and (4) the opinion testimony of other employees that race was a factor. 835 F.2d at 534.

Following remand the trial resumed and the government presented its evidence. That evidence included the testimony of Patricia Reilly, a personnel staffing specialist in the FAA's Eastern regional personnel office, who drew up the vacancy announcement for the QATS' openings. Ms. Reilly testified that possession of a current PWB certificate was not a requirement for the QATS position. The vacancy announcement, which listed the minimum requirements for the job, made no reference to a PWB certificate. Ms. Reilly cited FAA Order 3330.1A as support for her testimony that the lack of a PWB certificate could be cured within sixty days after an employee was selected for a QATS position. The government did not introduce this order into evidence.

Ms. Reilly's testimony concerning the possession of a PWB certificate as a prerequisite for a OATS position directly contradicted an earlier admission made by the FAA in its answer to Ms. Lucas's complaint.

The government also presented the testimony of Edward Dietz, Gary Wilson and Ken Johnson, as evidence that the FAA had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for promoting Ms. Wright rather than Ms. Lucas. Dietz had been the manager at the Leesburg facility since May, 1985, and he was responsible for making the final selections to fill the QATS openings. Johnson was Dietz's deputy, and Wilson was the Assistant Manager for Training at the Leesburg facility.

Wilson and Johnson's testimony essentially established that the interview process was entirely subjective, and that their rankings of the candidates was based solely on those interviews. Even after reviewing their notes taken at those interviews, neither Wilson nor Johnson could explain why he had given Ms. Wright higher scores than Ms. Lucas. Additionally, Wilson testified that he had recommended Ms. Wright to Dietz for an initial temporary assignment to the QATS position because "she had experience instructing people to take the ATC exam, mostly minority types."

Dietz's testimony established that he believed the ability to maintain "interpersonal relationships" was the most important qualification for the QATS job, and that he had communicated this to Wilson and Johnson. He also stated that he felt Ms. Lucas had a confrontational personality, and that she would not fare well as an instructor. Additionally, Dietz testified that Ms. Wright's performance during her temporary assignment subconsciously entered into his decision to select her to fill the position permanently.

Both parties also introduced evidence concerning the racial environment at Leesburg. The government's witnesses, Suk and Herrell, testified that they were unaware of any favoritism towards blacks at the facility. Mr. Hamm, one of the appellant's witnesses, testified that white employees were often passed over for promotion in favor of less qualified blacks. Hamm felt this resulted from the fact that EEO concerns were taking precedence over operational considerations. He had previously met with evaluators from FAA headquarters to express his ...

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