This is a suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1982). Appellant, Essie Rollins, alleges that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (the FDLE) denied her promotional opportunities because she is black; she now seeks promotion and back pay.
In this appeal, Rollins contends that the FDLE's reason for denying her promotion is precluded by section 704(a) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
The district court found that Rollins began her employment with the FDLE in 1976 as a Classification of Crime Information Input Technician (CIIT)-I. In 1978, she was promoted to CIIT-II; she was still employed in that classification when this case came to trial in 1987. During her employment with the FDLE, Rollins frequently lodged informal complaints of discrimination with her superiors; she also filed formal charges of racial harassment against one of her supervisors with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) and with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
In evaluating Rollins' Title VII claim, the district court applied the standards enunciated by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973). The district court found that Rollins established a prima facie violation of Title VII because she was a protected minority, was qualified for and applied for promotion, was rejected despite her qualifications, and other employees with equal or lesser qualifications who were not members of the protected minority were promoted instead. See Mortensen v. Callaway, 672 F.2d 822, 823 (10th Cir.1982) (applying McDonnell Douglas framework to discriminatory denial of promotion). The district court held, however, that the FDLE had successfully rebutted Rollins' claim by articulating a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for denying her promotion — that the denial of promotion was based on the manner in which Rollins complained of discrimination, not on the fact that she complained.
The record is replete with a variety of incidents which support the district court's determination. We briefly mention three of these. First, a number of witnesses testified that Rollins habitually bypassed the chain of command by bringing her complaints of discriminatory employment practices directly to the Commissioner of the FDLE, and on one occasion to the Governor of Florida, rather than to her unit supervisor, assistant supervisor, bureau chief, deputy director, or director. Rollins, moreover, refused to follow the avenues prescribed for lodging such complaints; though she knew that FDLE time sheets were not to be used for recording grievances, she frequently wrote her allegations of discrimination upon them. Second, the sheer number and frequency of Rollins' complaints of discrimination, most of which were plainly spurious,
The testimony regarding these incidents led the district court to conclude:
On appeal, Rollins argues that the district court erred in considering evidence concerning the insubordinate and disruptive manner in which she lodged her complaints.
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) (1982). According to Rollins, if her complaints of disparate treatment are protected under the statute, then they can not serve in any way as a legitimate reason for refusing to promote her.
In determining whether Rollins' conduct is protected under section 704(a), we recognize that the protection afforded by the statute is not limited to individuals who have filed formal complaints, but extends as well to those, like Rollins, who informally voice complaints to their superiors or who use their employers' internal grievance procedures. See Armstrong v. Index Journal Co., 647 F.2d 441, 448 (4th Cir.1981); Sias v. City Demonstration Agency, 588 F.2d 692, 694-96 (9th Cir.1978). We also recognize that the statute shields an employee from retaliation regardless of the merit of her complaints so long as she can show a good faith, reasonable belief that the challenged practices violate Title VII. See Payne v. McLemore's Wholesale & Retail Stores, 654 F.2d 1130, 1137 (5th Cir. Unit A Sept. 1981),
Though the legislative history of section 704(a) is murky,
In applying this balancing test, our approach is consistent with those of our sister circuits which have addressed the issue. See Jones v. Flagship Int'l, 793 F.2d 714, 728 (5th Cir.1986), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 1065, 107 S.Ct. 952, 93 L.Ed.2d 1001 (1987); Pendleton v. Rumsfeld, 628 F.2d 102, 108 (D.C.Cir.1980); Hochstadt v. Worcester Found. for Experimental Biology, 545 F.2d 222, 231 (1st Cir.1976). But see Curl v. Reavis, 740 F.2d 1323, 1329 n. 5 (4th Cir.1984) (dicta).
The case before us thus "raises the question, put simply, of whether [the district court erred in finding that] plaintiff went `too far' in her particular employment setting." Hochstadt, 545 F.2d at 231. We conclude that it did not. The record reveals, and the trial court found, that FDLE denied Rollins' applications for promotions because she had earned the reputation as a disruptive complainer who antagonized her supervisors and colleagues and impaired the morale of her unit. Such conduct, even when associated with complaints of discrimination, has been held to fall outside the protection of section 704(a) and to provide the employer with a legitimate basis for its action. See, e.g., Whatley, 632 F.2d at 1329 (hostile and accusatory complaints of discriminatory practices and failure to follow established reporting procedures constituted legitimate reason for discharge); Hochstadt, 545 F.2d at 234 (constant complaints of discriminatory practices at inappropriate times and settings which damaged team morale constituted legitimate reason for discharge). We accordingly hold that the district court did not err in concluding that the manner in which Rollins presented her complaints provided the FDLE with a legitimate basis for denying her promotion.
The judgment of the district court is
Hochstadt v. Worcester Found. for Experimental Biology, 545 F.2d 222, 230 (1st Cir.1976) (citations omitted).