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Crowley v. Prince George's County

decided: November 29, 1989.

ROBERT J. CROWLEY, PLAINTIFF - APPELLEE
v.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MARYLAND, DEFENDANT - APPELLANT AND PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANT; ROBERT J. CROWLEY, PLAINTIFF - APPELLANT V. PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MARYLAND, DEFENDANT - APPELLEE AND PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANT



Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Baltimore, J. Frederick Motz, District Judge. CA-84-2199-JFM.

Phillips and Wilkinson, Circuit Judges, and Britt, Chief United States District Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, sitting by designation.

Author: Wilkinson

WILKINSON, Circuit Judge

Here we must determine whether liability can be imposed upon Prince George's County, Maryland, under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for the decision of its police chief to downgrade the salary level of one of his employees. The district court entered judgment against the county under both statutes, basing liability under § 1981 on a theory of respondeat superior. The Supreme Court's recent decision in Jett v. Dallas Independent School District, 491 U. S. 701, 109 S. Ct. 2702, 105 L. Ed. 2d 598 (1989), requires that we reject the district court's imposition of respondeat superior liability. We further hold that although the police chief was a personnel decisionmaker, he was not a policymaker for purposes of municipal liability. Accordingly, we reverse the district court with respect to the § 1981 claim. We remand the Title VII claim for further findings of fact.

I.

Robert J. Crowley, a white male, began employment with Prince George's County in 1967. His job involved investigating complaints of police brutality, largely from black, low-income residents of Prince George's County against white police officers. In 1974, Crowley's position was placed under the supervision of the Prince George's County Police Department. He alleges that at this time he became the target of a pattern and practice of harassment.

In August 1979, the Acting Commander of the Personnel Division of the Police Department sent a memorandum to the Acting Chief of Police indicating that she had discussed eliminating Crowley's position, but had decided that a desk audit should be requested first. Such an audit, in which the classification of certain positions is reviewed by the Office of Personnel, was conducted, and the results were released in October 1980. The audit results indicated that Mitchell Dorsey, a black male, and Betty Kulle, a white female, were properly designated at the salary grade of G21. The report also indicated that Crowley's duties were similar to those of Dorsey and Kulle and that the correct salary grade for Crowley's position would be G21. At the time, Crowley was designated at the higher salary grade of G27. The Office of Personnel recommended that Crowley retain his current grade, but that the position be downgraded when vacated.

At the time the results of the desk audit were released, Crowley had been removed from his position for being absent without leave for two days. After he appealed the removal, however, the penalty was reduced to a 20-day suspension with backpay. He was reinstated in March 1981 at his previous salary grade of G27.

At about this time, Dorsey, the black male employee, filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations alleging that he was being paid less for the same work than a white employee, namely Crowley. In December 1981, the police chief downgraded Crowley's position, resulting in a reduction in Crowley's pay of $8,000 per year.

Crowley then filed a grievance with the police department. After having his petition denied, he appealed in turn to the Prince George's County Personnel Board, the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, and the Circuit Court en banc. All affirmed. In May 1984, Crowley filed the instant suit bringing Title VII, § 1981, and state law claims against Prince George's County in federal court. He alleged that his position was downgraded in retaliation for conscientiously performing his job and thereby drawing attention to racial harassment by the police department. In the alternative, he alleged that because his position was downgraded in response to the racial discrimination claim of Dorsey, he himself was discriminated against on the basis of race. The jury returned a verdict in Crowley's favor on the § 1981 claim, and the district court adopted the jury's findings and entered judgment for Crowley on the Title VII claim. The county moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, arguing primarily that the court erred in ruling that liability could be imposed on a municipality under a theory of respondeat superior under § 1981. The district court denied the motion, and this appeal followed.

II.

In Jett v. Dallas Independent School District, 491 U. S. 701, 109 S. Ct. 2702 105 L. Ed. 2d 598 (1989), decided after the district court's decision here, the Supreme Court held that a municipality cannot be held liable under a theory of respondeat superior for its employees' violations of § 1981. The Court stated that § 1983 "provides the exclusive federal damages remedy for the violation of the rights guaranteed by § 1981 when the claim is pressed against a state actor." Id. at 2722. It therefore "rejected respondeat superior as a basis for holding a state actor liable under § 1983 for violation of the rights enumerated in § 1981." Id. at 2723. Thus, the district court clearly erred here in approving respondeat superior as a basis for § 1981 liability.

The Jett Court emphasized that in order to hold liable a municipality for its employees' actions, those actions must represent the official policy of the municipality. Id. Crowley argues that his case ought to be remanded to the district court so that he might demonstrate that the police chief who downgraded his position possessed final policymaking authority, and thus that his decision represented the official policy of Prince George's County. Jett makes clear that such a remand is unnecessary, however; an appellate court is competent to determine as a matter of law whether an official has final policymaking authority. Id. at 2724. In this case, we find it beyond dispute that the Prince George's County police chief did not possess final policymaking authority with respect to police department personnel decisions.

The Supreme Court most recently addressed the issue of what constitutes final policymaking authority in City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 108 S. Ct. 915, 99 L. Ed. 2d 107 (1988) (plurality opinion). Praprotnik is particularly apposite here because it too involved a personnel decision made by a municipal employee. The case involved a St. Louis city employee who was transferred from one city department to another by agreement of the directors of the departments, and then was eventually laid off by the director of the second department. The employee brought suit under § 1983 against the department directors and the city alleging that these actions were taken in retaliation for his successful appeal of an earlier suspension, and in ...


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