In April, 1972, Maurianne Adams and Mary Carruthers,
Proceedings based on these complaints have followed a lethargic course, which might attract the attention of a modern Charles Dickens. A hearing on the complaints was held before a single commissioner of the MCAD on twelve days between January 16 and May 16, 1973. On December 30, 1974 (more than nineteen months after the close of the hearing), the single commissioner filed findings of fact and conclusions of law ruling in favor of Adams and Carruthers and ordering their reinstatement with tenure at the higher rank of associate professor and
The delay in the resolution of these complaints is particularly unfortunate because we conclude that the proceedings must be returned to the MCAD for further consideration. Although the single commissioner made certain errors in her decision which were not corrected by the full commission, we do not agree with the judge that the complaints should be dismissed without affording the MCAD the opportunity to reconsider the evidence (and, in its discretion, to receive any additional evidence) and to make findings under proper legal standards.
Our focus must be on the action of the agency, and we must, therefore, disregard factual conclusions advanced for the first time in the MCAD's brief here and must view
Adams was appointed an instructor in English at Smith in 1964, after an outstanding record as a student. In 1967, after receiving her doctoral degree, she was promoted to the rank of assistant professor in the English department. In 1970, she was given a three-year contract as an assistant professor. In the late winter of 1972, the English department, acting through its available tenured members, voted, seven-to-one, not to recommend Adams for tenure. The recommendations against tenure were made by men, and the sole recommendation for tenure was made by a woman.
Carruthers also was appointed an instructor in English at Smith in 1964, following a distinguished record as a student. She received a master's degree and a doctoral degree from Yale in 1965, and was promoted to the rank of assistant professor. After annual renewals, she received
The procedures in effect at Smith concerning tenure required recommendations concerning tenure from senior tenured members of the department in which the concerned individual taught. Each departmental recommendation was presented to a committee on tenure and promotion, consisting of five tenured faculty members, the dean, and the president of the college. The committee's function was to review departmental tenure recommendations and to make its own assessment and recommendation to the college's board of trustees concerning tenure or promotion. The board of trustees has traditionally accepted the recommendations of the committee on tenure and promotion, but that committee has not always followed a department's recommendation. Although it seems that great weight was given to a department's recommendation, the committee made its own analysis of a tenure question. One man on the committee voted in favor of tenure for Adams. All other votes were against tenure. The woman on the committee voted against tenure for both. The president, who votes only in the case of a tie, did not vote.
In the cases of Adams and Carruthers, there is no evidence that the committee was influenced by considerations of sex, except as sex may have been a factor in the votes of individual members of the English department which led to that department's negative recommendations. The MCAD should have given greater attention than it did to the question whether sex was a determinative cause for Smith's decisions to deny tenure. If the decision of the committee on tenure and promotion as to either Adams or Carruthers in any event would have been negative despite her sex, that complainant failed to
The single commissioner failed to recognize that, in cases involving disparate treatment of employees, proof of discriminatory motive is critical. See International Bhd. of Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 335 n. 15 (1977); Sweeney v. Trustees of Keene State College, 569 F.2d 169, 174 (1st Cir.1978). The parties have treated these complaints as alleging "disparate treatment" rather than "disparate impact." A case of disparate impact involves facially neutral practices which fall more harshly on one group than another. In such a case, discriminatory motive is not an essential part of the proof. See International Bhd. of Teamsters v. United States, supra. The full commission did not rectify the single commissioner's failure to focus on discriminatory motive, and, in fact, may have perpetuated that error. It is not surprising that, in this academic environment, there was no direct evidence of discrimination against either Adams or Carruthers individually on the basis of sex. For example, there was no substantial evidence that any member of the
The single commissioner failed to consider the fact that Smith first became subject to G.L.c. 151B on July 24, 1969. St. 1969, c. 216. Evidence of sex discrimination prior to that date, although perhaps relevant to prove a preexisting and continuing pattern of discrimination, must be considered carefully if it is to be used as a basis for a finding of discrimination after that date. See Hazelwood School Dist. v. United States, 433 U.S. 299, 309-310 (1977). The full commission recognized the single commissioner's error of law and corrected her order, to limit retroactive relief to events occurring on and after July 24, 1969, but the full commission failed to recognize the past patterns of discrimination, which before 1969 allegedly overloaded the tenured professorial ranks in the English department with men, could not be relied on to support
The full commission appears to have treated this case as one in which the complainants established a prima facie case of sex discrimination which the respondents failed to rebut. The single commissioner's diffuse discussion seems to accept the same view. The concept of a prima facie case and the shifting of the burden of going forward to rebut the prima facie case was expressed in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), and amplified by us in Wheelock College v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, 371 Mass. 130 (1976). If a complainant proves a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination, the burden is then shifted to the respondent to produce a lawful explanation for the treatment accorded the complainant. Id. at 138. That explanation must consist of not only a nondiscriminatory reason for the respondent's action but also credible evidence indicating that the reasons advanced were the real reasons. Id. The fact finder has a particularly delicate function. The managerial decision may be unsound or even absurd, but, if the reason given for the decision is the real reason and is nondiscriminatory, the MCAD has no authority to grant relief from that decision.
If a prima facie case is made out, the MCAD will next have to consider Smith's stated reason for its decision to deny tenure and whether that reason was the real reason for denying tenure, or merely a pretext. Wheelock College v. Massachusetts Comm'n Against Discrimination, supra at 138-139. Smith's stated reason is that the complainants were not qualified for tenure. This is a nondiscriminatory reason. Indeed, the fact of qualification for a position is an essential part of any complainant's prima facie case. Thus, the complainants have the burden of proving their qualifications and the further burden of proving that the reason advanced and supported for denying tenure was not the real reason.
Despite judicial reluctance to second guess tenure decisions at the college level,
Although many of the standards for a tenure decision are necessarily subjective, they are not fairly assailable as suspiciously vague. However, the opportunity for unlawful bias is particularly great in such cases. A most detailed and careful analysis of the facts is required to assess whether a complainant proved that he or she was qualified for tenure.
An even more difficult task for the MCAD will be to determine whether the nondiscriminatory reason given — lack of qualification — was the real one. The departmental tenure recommendations were made by eight people. If those voting against tenure (or only perhaps a majority of them) truly believed that Adams and Carruthers did not qualify for tenure, that may end the case. If it is the real reason for the decision, a nondiscriminatory, even though irrational, employment decision cannot be the ground for relief from the MCAD. The decisions of the single commissioner and the full commission, although without sufficient factual analysis, considered only the first step: the qualifications of Adams and Carruthers for for tenure. Those decisions did not recognize, as they should have, that a sincere belief that a person is not qualified for a job is an adequate justification for an employment decision and rebuts a complainant's prima facie case. In any subsequent decision which finds the reasons given for denying tenure to be a pretext, the MCAD, or a single commissioner, must give careful attention to the testimony of various English professors that they voted against tenure solely because in their opinions Adams and Carruthers lacked the necessary qualifications for tenure. In order to justify relief to the complainants, these reasons must be found to be a pretext.
The judgment of the Superior Court is reversed, and judgment shall be entered remanding the proceedings to the MCAD for action not inconsistent with this opinion.