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Humphries v. Pulaski County Special School District

September 3, 2009

DONNA HUMPHRIES, APPELLANT/ CROSS-APPELLEE,
v.
PULASKI COUNTY SPECIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLEE/ CROSS-APPELLANT.



Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gruender, Circuit Judge.

Submitted: April 16, 2009

Before WOLLMAN, MELLOY and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.

Donna Humphries brought this action against the Pulaski County Special School District ("District") alleging that the District breached its employment contract with her and that it unlawfully used race in its hiring practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act. The district court granted the District's motion for summary judgment with respect to the federal claims and dismissed Humphries's state law claims without prejudice. Both parties appeal, and for the reasons discussed below, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Humphries, a white female with a doctorate degree in elementary education, has been employed with the District since 1984 and has worked as an elementary school counselor since 1989. Since 2001, Humphries has applied for virtually every elementary school assistant principal position that has been available in the District, including two such openings in August 2005. In 2007, Humphries also applied for a director of counseling services position with the District. In each instance, Humphries asserts that the District preferentially hired black applicants.

In August 2005, Humphries filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that the District repeatedly denied her an assistant principal position based on her race. After receiving a notice from the EEOC regarding her right to sue, Humphries filed suit in the district court on May 24, 2006, contending that the District discriminated against her based on her race when it failed to promote her to the assistant principal positions and that the District breached its contract with her by failing to give priority consideration to current employees when filling the assistant principal positions.*fn1 Humphries filed an amended complaint on September 26, 2007, which added the allegation that she was denied the director of counseling services position because of her race.

Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. In her motion for summary judgment, Humphries contended that direct evidence supported her discrimination claims, including the District's policy of using biracial interview committees, the District's announced preference to "employ and advance blacks," the District's published racial quotas and goals for hiring black administrators, the District's practice of hiring assistant principals such that at least one assistant principal is of a different race than that school's principal, and statistical evidence establishing that the District favors black applicants in its hiring of administrative personnel.

In its motion for summary judgment, the District argued that its policies for employment and promotion were promulgated in response to court orders requiring the District to desegregate and implement procedures that would make the District attractive to minority students, teachers, and administrators. The District has a lengthy history of involvement in desegregation litigation. See Little Rock Sch. Dist. v. N. Little Rock Sch. Dist., 451 F.3d 528, 529 (8th Cir. 2006) (summarizing the District's history of involvement in federal desegregation litigation). In 1982, the Little Rock School District sued the District, the North Little Rock School District, the State of Arkansas, and the Arkansas State Board of Education, seeking consolidation of the three Pulaski County school districts as a remedy for allegedly unconstitutional efforts to maintain racially segregated schools. See Little Rock Sch. Dist. v. Pulaski County Spec. Sch. Dist. No. 1, 778 F.2d 404, 408-09 (8th Cir. 1985) (en banc). This court affirmed the district court's finding that the District acted to perpetuate segregation by, among other things, failing to meet staff hiring goals. Id. at 427-28. In response to our decision, the District negotiated a settlement agreement with the other school districts, which we eventually ordered the district court to approve. See Little Rock Sch. Dist. v. Pulaski County Spec. Sch. Dist. No. 1, 921 F.2d 1371, 1388 (8th Cir. 1990). We also ordered the creation of the Office of Desegregation Monitoring ("ODM") to assist the district court in its supervision of the school districts. See id. The District operated under that settlement agreement until March 2000, when the district court approved a new plan submitted by the District called "Plan 2000." Little Rock Sch. Dist. v. Pulaski County Spec. Sch. Dist. No.1, Case No. 4:82-cv-866, Doc. No. 3347, at 2 (E.D. Ark. Mar. 21, 2000).

Regarding staffing, Plan 2000 requires that the District "recruit applicants for each available administrative position . . . in a manner designed to communicate, broadly, its availability and to develop a racially diverse pool of applicants." It also requires the District to "allocate teachers and other professional staff in a manner which avoids the racial identification of schools." The District's assistant superintendent for desegregation has "the authority to direct that additional recruitment take place prior to the offering of the position to a particular applicant." Further, the District's compliance with Plan 2000 is subject to continuous monitoring by the ODM.*fn2

The district court granted summary judgment to the District, holding that Humphries failed to set forth direct evidence of unlawful discrimination because she "presented no evidence that the 'affirmative action' plan played any part in the District's decisions not to promote her." The court further held that even if Humphries could establish that the District followed its affirmative action plan in failing to promote her, Humphries could not establish that its plan was invalid. The court also dismissed Humphries's state law claims without prejudice. Humphries appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to the District and denial of her motion for summary judgment. The District cross-appeals the district court's dismissal of Humphries's state law claims without prejudice.

II. DISCUSSION

"We review a district court's decision on cross-motions for summary judgment de novo." Thirty and 141, L.P. v. Lowe's Home Ctrs., Inc., 565 F.3d 443, 445-46 (8th Cir. 2009). "Summary judgment is appropriate when, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant, there are no genuine issues of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id. at 446. "A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the party opposing the motion." Chao v. Barbeque Ventures, LLC, 547 F.3d 938, 941 (8th Cir. 2008).*fn3

Humphries's claims may survive the District's motion for summary judgment in one of two ways. First, Humphries "may present admissible evidence directly indicating unlawful discrimination, that is, evidence showing a specific link between the alleged discriminatory animus and the challenged decision, sufficient to support a finding by a reasonable fact finder that an illegitimate criterion actually motivated the adverse employment action." See Fields v. Shelter Mut. Ins. Co., 520 F.3d 859, 863 (8th Cir. 2008). In the alternative, Humphries may present evidence "creating an inference of unlawful discrimination under the ...


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