GODBOLD, Chief Judge:
This appeal in a school desegregation case originated as a motion for further relief made by plaintiff National Education Association. NEA contended that the Russell County [Alabama] Board of Education's decision not to reemploy untenured black teachers Leon Crenshaw and Margie Walker violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and violated a prior court order in the case to make employment decisions without regard to race.
This controversy arose at the end of 1978-79 school year when the Russell County School Board decided by a three to two vote not to reemploy Crenshaw, Walker, and Narang, untenured teachers at Chavala High School, and Barnes, their principal. Chavala High School consisted of grades 7-12
Crenshaw, a black male, taught science in the junior high grades for two years and was also athletic director and football coach in the senior high grades for those two years. Walker, a black female, taught 11th and 12th grade English for three years. Narang, a female [Asiatic] Indian, taught reading in the junior high grades for two years. Barnes, a white male, was principal for one year. All three teachers received satisfactory evaluations throughout their teaching careers and received a recommendation for reemployment by their principal, Barnes, and by Warren Richards, the county superintendent of education, at the end of the 1978-79 school year. The day before the school board met to make its decision the three members who eventually constituted the majority called Barnes in separate phone conversations inquiring whether he continued to stand by his recommendations, which he did. The following day the board made its decision not to reemploy the plaintiffs, and at the same time it voted not to reemploy three white teachers at Chavala. These other three teachers had already declared their intentions not to return the following year, however. Crenshaw was replaced by a white football coach. A black man was named as a temporary principal. The evidence is not clear, though, concerning the race of the replacements for Walker and Narang and the race of the permanent principal.
Principal Barnes, who had several years of experience in school desegregation and civil rights matters, testified that in his opinion there was no valid administrative reason not to reemploy Crenshaw, Walker and Narang and that race was definitely a factor in the school board's decisions. Richards, who had been superintendent of education in Russell County for almost two decades and had worked with the then current members of the school board for several years, testified that there was no administrative reason not to reemploy the three plaintiff teachers and principal Barnes and that race was a factor in the decisions. The two members of the school board who voted
The three members of the school board who voted not to reemploy plaintiffs each testified that race was not a factor in his decision and denied much of plaintiffs' evidence just summarized. They gave as their reasons for nonrenewal the following:
There was evidence introduced supporting these reasons and other evidence contradicting the validity of these complaints.
II. The district court's opinion
At the end of the two and one-half day trial the court ruled from the bench that plaintiffs had not met their burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that their nonrenewals were unconstitutional.
III. The legal analysis
The action was prosecuted under § 1983 as to Crenshaw, Walker, and Narang on the theory that they were discriminated against because of their race in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and as to Barnes on the theory that he was discriminated against on the basis of his exercise of First Amendment rights.
Focusing first on the race discrimination charge, it is well established that such a claim may be analyzed under the McDonnell Douglas structure developed in Title VII suits. The McDonnell Douglas test, as recently explained by the Supreme Court in Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981), and as modified by this circuit for application in discharge (as opposed to hiring) cases, is as follows: If plaintiff proves by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is a member of a protected class, was qualified for the position held, and was discharged and replaced by a person outside of the protected class or was discharged while a person outside of the class with equal or lesser qualifications was retained, then plaintiff has established a "prima facie case" of discrimination. Jackson v. City of Killeen, 654 F.2d 1181, 1183-84 & n.3 (5th Cir. 1981); Rhode v. K.O. Steel Castings, Inc., 649 F.2d 317, 322 (5th Cir. 1981). "Prima facie case" has a specialized meaning in this context that goes beyond simply producing sufficient evidence to create a jury question; rather, this prima facie case creates a rebuttable presumption of discrimination and therefore if not rebutted requires a verdict for plaintiff. Burdine, supra, 450 U.S. at 254 & n.7, 101 S.Ct. at 1094 & n.7.
The nature of the rebuttal burden on the defendant, though, is merely one of production, not proof. Defendant must articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for discharge. Id. at 257-58, 101 S.Ct. at 1096. Once defendant meets this burden the analysis proceeds to the third stage at which the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence either that the asserted legitimate reason is pretextual or more directly that a discriminatory reason motivated the discharge. Id. at 255-56, 101 S.Ct. at 1094-1095.
The McDonnell Douglas analysis is only one means of proving a case of discrimination, however. It is not the exclusive means. Furnco Construction Corp. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 576, 98 S.Ct. 2943, 2949, 57 L.Ed.2d 957 (1978); International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. U.S., 431 U.S. 324, 357-58, 97 S.Ct. 1843, 1865-1866, 52 L.Ed.2d 396 (1977); Lee v. Conecuh County Board of Education, supra, 634 F.2d at 962; McCuen v. Home Insurance Co., 633 F.2d 1150, 1151-52 (5th Cir. 1981); McCorstin v. U.S. Steel Corp., 621 F.2d 749, 753-54 (5th Cir. 1980). The McDonnell Douglas analysis is "[i]ntended progressively to sharpen inquiry into the elusive factual question of intentional discrimination," Burdine, 450
Moreover, where a case for discrimination is proved by direct evidence it is incorrect to rely on a McDonnell Douglas form of rebuttal. Under the McDonnell Douglas test plaintiff establishes a prima facie case when the trier of fact believes the four circumstances outlined above which give rise to an inference of discrimination. Where the evidence for a prima facie case consists, as it does here, of direct testimony that defendants acted with a discriminatory motivation, if the trier of fact believes the prima facie evidence the ultimate issue of discrimination is proved; no inference is required. Defendant cannot rebut this type of showing of discrimination simply by articulating or producing evidence of legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons.
To summarize, the often used McDonnell Douglas test is but one way to prove discrimination. It is designed to focus the inquiry where circumstantial evidence is relied on. Where strong, direct evidence is presented, reliance on McDonnell Douglas as the exclusive means of proving the case and as the proper form of rebuttal is incorrect. When a significant unconstitutional motive is ultimately proved, by either circumstantial or direct evidence, the defendants' only form of rebuttal is under Mt. Healthy.
The foregoing principles concern the cases of the three plaintiff teachers alleging race discrimination. Plaintiff Barnes contends, however, that he was discharged in retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment rights. There is some doubt whether such a case is ever properly analyzed under a pure McDonnell Douglas approach, see Conecuh County Board of Education, supra, 634 F.2d at 962, and such cases are typically discussed under a Mt. Healthy analysis, 429 U.S. 274, 97 S.Ct. 568, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977), or under a retaliatory discharge analysis, see Lindsey v. Mississippi Research and Development Center, 652 F.2d 488 (5th Cir. 1981).
In light of the above, the district court's analysis is insufficient in several respects. First, the court's ruling might be construed as considering plaintiffs to have established a prima facie case, and then focusing on a McDonnell Douglas type of rebuttal. If so this was error, for the plaintiffs' evidence, if accepted, is of the type that is not properly rebutted by a mere statement of legitimate reasons. The Chavala principal, a man with several years of experience in educational civil rights matters, and the Russell County superintendent of education, who had worked with this school board for several years, each testified unequivocally that the discharges were racially motivated.
Second, the court might have disbelieved plaintiffs' evidence. If so, it did not state why this apparently highly probative evidence was discredited. In these circumstances some indication of the court's reasons for rejecting this evidence must be given in order for us to exercise properly our function of appellate review.
Third, the district court might have been under the view that it was not necessary to decide whether to believe plaintiffs' evidence, for it stated that the school board is not "required to prove total absence of any discriminatory motive." Although we have stated this in dictum, Whiting v. Jackson State University, 616 F.2d 116, 121 (5th Cir. 1980),
Finally, assuming that a prima facie case was established by McDonnell Douglas factors
The reason assigned by the court for Barnes' nonrenewal was his failure to conduct adequate investigations of complaints about school matters. Again, this was not a factor given by the school board members when they testified. The school board members gave as their reasons that Barnes was "not his own man" and was "not the leader we needed." These reasons, before they can be accepted as sufficient rebuttal, must be scrutinized to determine whether they are "clear and reasonably specific." Burdine, 450 U.S. at 258, 101 S.Ct. at 1096. Excessively subjective and vague criteria may be insufficient because they do not
To summarize, the district court may have made its ruling under the incorrect view that a McDonnell Douglas rebuttal is sufficient to meet direct proof that race was a significant factor in the nonrenewal decisions. If it did not, then the court's findings were inadequate because the court did not mention or explain why it did not accept plaintiffs' strong evidence of discrimination. At a third level, assuming that the court properly rejected the direct evidence of discrimination but recognized a prima facie case based on McDonnell Douglas factors, its analysis of legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for nonrenewal was faulty. In light of the difficulty of these issues and the complexity of this case, we mention that the following issues are among those that should be addressed on remand:
The judgment of the district court is VACATED and REMANDED for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.