Jerroll Richardson, a former police officer for the City of Leeds, Alabama ("City"), appeals from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama dismissing this action alleging racial discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et
I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE
Richardson, an African American, was an officer of the Leeds Police Department ("Department") from January 1989 until he resigned in May 1991. A short time after leaving the Department he changed his mind and sought reinstatement. His efforts were unsuccessful. On July 29, 1991, he filed an administrative complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging that he resigned because of disparate treatment in job assignments during his period of employment. He also accused the Department of refusing to rehire him because of his race. After receiving a right to sue letter from the EEOC, Richardson commenced this action in the district court against the City and the Chief of Police, Thomas W. McDonald. He alleged in deposition testimony that his resignation amounted to a constructive discharge because it stemmed from the denial of opportunities for advancement while employed by the City, as well as racial slurs directed at him by a fellow officer and general hostility within the Department toward black citizens. He also claimed that he was not restored to his former position with the Department on account of his race and because he complained that black citizens were treated more severely by the City's police officers than were white citizens. The complaint as amended included causes of action for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("1964 Act"), § 1981 and § 1983.
A jury trial on the § 1983 cause of action stemming from the alleged disparate treatment during the course of employment and in rehiring was held in 1994. At the conclusion of Richardson's case-in-chief, the defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law in compliance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 50. The district court denied the motions and continued with the trial. After the close of all the evidence, the defendants renewed their Rule 50 motions. The court took the motions under advisement and submitted the case to the jury, which was instructed to respond to a set of interrogatories as part of its deliberations. By its answers the jury exonerated McDonald of all alleged wrongdoing. It also found that the City did not discriminate against Richardson during his tenure with the Department. It could not reach a verdict, however, on the question of whether Richardson's race played a part in the City's refusal to rehire him. The district court announced that it would enter orders on the partial verdict and released the jury.
Thereafter, in a memorandum opinion, the court granted the City's motion for judgment as a matter of law on the reinstatement claim. In arriving at this decision, the court found that Richardson failed to prove a prima facie case of discrimination in the rehiring context because, unlike other white officers who were reemployed after they resigned, Richardson indicated when he left the Department that he was "burned out." The court consequently determined that Richardson was not similarly situated to the nonminority officers who were restored to their former positions. The court found further that, even assuming Richardson carried his initial burden of proof, he did not actually want the job for which he made application. In support of this finding the court relied on the jury's negative response to interrogatory number five, which inquired whether Richardson "presently" desired a position with the City as a police patrolman.
Pursuant to the jury's partial verdict and the ruling on the motion for judgment as a matter of law, the district court dismissed the action in its entirety against both defendants. Richardson subsequently filed this appeal in which he challenges only the judgment rendered as a matter of law in favor of the City on the § 1983 and Title VII causes of action arising from the failure to restore him to his former position.
We review a decision to grant a judgment as a matter of law de novo, applying the same standards utilized by the district court. Daniel v. City of Tampa, Fla., 38 F.3d 546, 549 (11th Cir.1994), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 115 S.Ct. 2557, 132 L.Ed.2d 811 (1995). A judgment as a matter of law is warranted "[i]f during a trial by jury a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). When evaluating a Rule 50 motion, the court must consider all of the evidence and reasonable inferences arising therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Beckwith v. City of Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., 58 F.3d 1554, 1560 (11th Cir.1995). A judgment as a matter of law may be affirmed only when "`the facts and inferences point so overwhelmingly in favor of the movant ... that reasonable people could not arrive at a contrary verdict.'" Pulte Home Corp. v. Osmose Wood Preserving, Inc., 60 F.3d 734, 739 (11th Cir.1995) (quoting Roboserve, Ltd. v. Tom's Foods, Inc., 940 F.2d 1441, 1448 (11th Cir.1991)).
In a case such as this alleging disparate treatment, in which § 1983 is employed as a remedy for the same conduct attacked under Title VII, "`the elements of the two causes of action are the same.'" Cross v. State of Ala., 49 F.3d 1490, 1508 (11th Cir.1995) (quoting Hardin v. Stynchcomb, 691 F.2d 1364, 1369 n. 16 (11th Cir.1982)). In both instances, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted with discriminatory intent. Hardin, 691 F.2d at 1369 n. 16.
Identical methods of proof, as described in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973), are also employed. See St. Mary's Honor Center v. Hicks, 509 U.S. ___, ___ n. 1, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 2746 n. 1, 125 L.Ed.2d 407, 415 n. 1 (1993) (assuming that the McDonnell Douglas analysis applies equally to § 1983 and Title VII claims of discrimination). First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case, which raises a presumption that the employer's decision was more likely than not based upon an impermissible factor.
The distinction between the Title VII and § 1983 causes in the present case was in the availability of a jury trial and compensatory damages under § 1983, but not with respect to the Title VII equitable claims, which were tried to the court. See supra note 2. When legal and equitable causes are joined in one action, the legal issues must be decided first. Dairy Queen, Inc. v. Wood, 369 U.S. 469, 479, 82 S.Ct. 894, 900-01, 8 L.Ed.2d 44, 52 (1962). To the extent that the elements of the two types of claims mirror one another, the jury's findings on the legal questions are binding in resolving the equitable issues. Lincoln v. Board of Regents of the Univ. Sys. of Ga., 697 F.2d 928, 934 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 826, 104 S.Ct. 97, 78 L.Ed.2d 102 (1983).
Richardson argues on appeal that the district court erred by visiting whether he had established a prima facie case of discrimination after the action was fully tried on the merits, in violation of United States Postal Serv. Bd. of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711, 103 S.Ct. 1478, 75 L.Ed.2d 403 (1983). We agree that it was wrong for the court to follow this procedure. In Aikens, the Supreme Court held that
Id. at 714-15, 103 S.Ct. at 1481, 75 L.Ed.2d at 410 (footnote omitted). When the trier of fact has before it all the evidence needed to decide the ultimate issue of whether the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff, the question of whether the plaintiff properly made out a prima facie case "is no longer relevant." Id. at 715, 103 S.Ct. at 1482, 75 L.Ed.2d at 410; see also Wall v. Trust Co. of Georgia, 946 F.2d 805, 809-10 (11th Cir.1991).
The district court's reliance on Richardson's statement that he was "burned out" to find that he failed to establish a prima facie case was substantively flawed as well. "The burden of establishing a prima facie case of disparate treatment is not onerous." Texas Dep't of Community Affairs, 450 U.S. at 253, 101 S.Ct. at 1094, 67 L.Ed.2d at 215; see also Howard v. BP Oil Co., Inc., 32 F.3d 520, 524 (11th Cir.1994) (characterizing the requirements of demonstrating a prima facie case as "minimal"). To raise an inference of discrimination, it was not necessary for Richardson to show that he and the nonminority applicants who were rehired gave the same reason or reasons for resigning. Rather, it was sufficient for him to show that he belonged to a racial minority, that he applied for and was qualified for the job and that after his rejection, the position remained open and the Department continued to seek qualified applicants. See supra note 5.
The district court also decided that Richardson's admission of "burn out" was a legally acceptable ground for the City's decision, which was not pretextual. Richardson urges us to hold that the evidence relating to pretext was sufficient to create a jury issue.
The proof at the trial established that Richardson worked initially in the detective division as an undercover narcotics officer, which he understood would be a temporary assignment. In April 1989, after the undercover detail ended, he was reassigned to patrol duty. While working the 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift, he was required to testify during the day in court proceedings resulting from his prior undercover work. During this time he was also "loaned" to several other police departments to assist in narcotics work conducted in nearby counties. After certain conversations with McDonald, Richardson expected to be considered for the next available permanent position in the detective division, which McDonald indicated would be filled by someone from within the Department. Instead, the next opening went to a white applicant from outside the Department. Richardson remained in a patrol slot until his resignation.
Richardson testified that he left "basically due to the adverse treatment, the type of double standards. I was, I was burnt out." (R4 at 168). He explained that
(Id. at 170).
There was also evidence that the mayor reinstated three white patrolmen after they had resigned. McDonald testified that one of the officers left the Department because he was unhappy over the denial of a promotion. (R5 at 403). Another was dissatisfied with his pay and felt he had been treated unfairly with respect to a request for military leave. (Id. at 406-07, 416-17). The third was rehired despite a poor work record and an evident lack of interest in performing cooperatively with other members of the force. (Id. at 424-25).
The district court apparently believed that the evidence failed to create an issue of fact as to the decisionmaker's intent with respect to Richardson because it was undisputed that Richardson complained he was "burned out" when he left the Department. Although the evidence would have permitted a reasonable jury to infer an innocent motive on the City's part — that the mayor viewed Richardson as a poor candidate for reemployment because he was "burned out" by police work and no longer inspired to perform to the best of his ability — a reasonable jury could also have concluded that Richardson's professed "burn out" was not the true reason he was not rehired. Like Richardson, two of the white officers who were rehired voiced dissatisfaction with their treatment within the Department. Richardson was arguably more qualified
As additional support for the judgment, the district court cited the jury's finding that Richardson did not "presently" desire to be reinstated.
According to an "Amended Damage List" which was filed in support of the action, Richardson asked for backpay, reinstatement, declaratory and injunctive relief, costs and attorney's fees under Title VII. In his § 1983 suit he sought compensation for "financial hardship, pain, suffering and mental anguish." (R2-49). The jury's finding that, at the time of trial, Richardson no longer wanted his old job, may well have been relevant to fashioning a remedy in the event of the City's liability. See Goldstein v. Manhattan Indus., Inc., 758 F.2d 1435, 1448 (11th Cir.) (the decision of whether reinstatement should be ordered is within the sound discretion of the district court), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1005, 106 S.Ct. 525, 88 L.Ed.2d 457 (1985); Carmichael v. Birmingham Saw Works, 738 F.2d 1126, 1136 (11th Cir.1984) (injunction ordering employer to refrain from discriminatory practices not justified where the plaintiff is not reinstated). But it would not have foreclosed a declaratory judgment that the City acted with bad intent, making it liable for backpay and compensatory damages. The district court's alternative reasoning for ordering judgment as a matter of law was therefore erroneous.
The judgment rendered as a matter of law in favor of the City on Richardson's § 1983 and Title VII causes of action alleging he was not rehired on account of his race is hereby VACATED. The case is REMANDED to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Section 1981 bars racial discrimination in the making and enforcement of contracts. Richardson's cause of action under § 1983, which prohibits the deprivation of federal rights, privileges or immunities under color of state law, was based upon charges that the defendants violated his equal protection rights protected by the United States Constitution.
(R4 at 196-97, 325-26).