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Jackson v. U.S. Steel Corp.

decided: June 9, 1980.



Before Adams, Van Dusen and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Van Dusen


In these appeals defendant U. S. Steel Corporation (U. S. Steel) challenges the judgment granted in favor of one of its former employees, Lila Jean Jackson, in a suit alleging discrimination in employment. U. S. Steel asserts that the district court applied incorrect legal standards in assessing plaintiff's claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1976). Jackson cross-appeals. Specifically, U. S. Steel argues that the district court erred in defining the elements plaintiff must prove in order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. U. S. Steel also contends that the court imposed too heavy a burden on the employer in its efforts to meet the employee's prima facie case. Because we agree that the district court incorrectly stated the standard applicable to a defendant's rebuttal case under Title VII, we vacate the order entered by the district court on February 26, 1979, and remand for further proceedings.*fn1


Lila Jean Jackson began working for U. S. Steel in 1955 as a typist at the Research Laboratory in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. Over the years she rose to jobs with greater responsibility and in 1965 was appointed to a supervisory position. In 1970 she became the Supervisor of Secretarial Systems and Development. She performed her job well and was recommended for a promotion. As a result of a reorganization, however, Jackson's position was eliminated in April 1974. Jackson was informed that she had two options: (1) she could accept severance pay and leave U. S. Steel's employ entirely; or (2) she could elect "lay-off" status under which she would be eligible for recall for two years, but would be removed from the rolls without severance pay at the end of two years if she had not been recalled during that time. Jackson elected to accept severance pay. She informed U. S. Steel of her decision in mid-May. She began work for another employer on May 28, 1974. Three days later she signed her official severance request.

Believing that her termination constituted discrimination based on sex, Jackson filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on April 24, 1974. The EEOC sent her a letter on December 30, 1976, notifying her of her right to sue. She promptly filed this suit in federal court. During her trial she attempted to prove her charge of sex discrimination by showing that no male supervisors had been eliminated in the 1974 reorganization and by showing that U. S. Steel made efforts to relocate male supervisors but made no effort to relocate her.*fn2 Judgment was entered in favor of U. S. Steel on the reorganization claim and in favor of Jackson on the relocation claim. This appeal followed.*fn3

The parties to this suit agreed on very little. They did, however, agree that Jackson had received excellent job evaluations and merit increases in salary throughout her career with U. S. Steel, and that her qualifications and performance were not factors in the decision to eliminate her position (Stipulation of Facts, P 15; App. at 21a). Other matters were vigorously disputed. Jackson was told that there was an opening as a file clerk, a non-supervisory position with a substantially lower salary than she had commanded previously. The parties strongly disagree as to whether this job was ever offered to Jackson. Jackson contended that she was told that management did not want her to take this position: U. S. Steel claimed that Jackson refused to even consider the job. A few other non-supervisory positions at the Laboratory in Monroeville became available in April and May, but Jackson was not informed of these openings. U. S. Steel asserted that it did not offer these jobs to Jackson because she had said she was only interested in a secretarial position. Faced with conflicting testimony on these issues, the trial judge reviewed all the evidence and made a number of findings of fact. He found that in the April 1974 reorganization U. S. Steel eliminated only Jackson's job. He found that this elimination was not part of a substantial reduction in staff, and that Jackson's duties continued to be performed after she was terminated. He further found, however, that the elimination of Jackson's position resulted from changes made to improve work flow and efficiency, and that similar reorganizations of jobs involved with personnel functions occurred throughout U. S. Steel. Additionally, the trial judge found that U. S. Steel had a policy of assisting supervisors in obtaining other jobs if their positions were eliminated. Moreover, he found that this practice was not extended to Jackson when she was terminated in April 1974. With respect to this issue, he also found that Jackson did not flatly reject the file clerk position available in April 1974, and did not state that she was interested only in a secretarial position.

Jackson asserts that the district court erred in finding that the defendant's elimination of her position stemmed from a legitimate business reorganization. U. S. Steel also urges that the district court erred in making a number of its factual findings. We do not agree with either contention. In reviewing findings of fact, we are bound by the clearly erroneous standard. Rule 52(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. An appellate court is "circumscribed by the deference it must give to decisions of the trier of the fact, who is usually in a superior position to appraise and weigh the evidence." Zenith Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, Inc., 395 U.S. 100, 123, 89 S. Ct. 1562, 1576, 23 L. Ed. 2d 129 (1969). The question thus is not whether the appellate court would have made the same factual findings the trial court did, but whether "on the entire evidence (it) is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395, 68 S. Ct. 525, 542, 92 L. Ed. 746 (1948). With this standard in mind we have reviewed the record, and we cannot conclude that the findings of fact made by the district court are clearly erroneous.


Turning to the legal issues raised by this appeal, we note that U. S. Steel's liability in this case is based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (1976). Title VII provides in pertinent part:

"It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer . . . to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment, because of such individual's . . . sex . . . ."

42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). In McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S. Ct. 1817, 36 L. Ed. 2d 668 (1973), the Supreme Court considered the order and allocation of proof in actions challenging employment discrimination under Title VII. The Court stated:

"The complainant in a Title VII trial must carry the initial burden under the statute of establishing a prima facie case of . . . discrimination. . . . The burden then must shift to the employer to articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the (employer's action). . . . (If the employer's) reason . . . suffices to meet the prima facie case, . . . (the employee ...

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