Featured Employment Case
Bradley v. Harcourt, Brace & Co., 104 F.3d 267 (9th Cir. 1996)
A former employee filed a sex and disability discrimination lawsuit against former her employer under Title VII, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). The United States District Court for the Southern District of California, Gordon Thompson, Jr., J., entered summary judgment for the employer. The Court of Appeals, Trott, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) employee’s evidence was insufficient to rebut employer’s proffered reasons for terminating her, i.e. poor performance and behavior not in accordance with customary business practices, or to counter strong inference of nondiscrimination that arose because same person who hired her terminated her only one year later, and (2) evidence was insufficient to establish that employee was disabled when terminated.
Regarding the sex discrimination claim, the opinion provides as follows: “Bradley bears the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination by introducing evidence that gives rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. For the purposes of Harcourt’s motion for summary judgment, we assume—as did the district court and Harcourt—that Bradley has met her prima facie showing. Thus, the burden shifts to Harcourt to produce evidence that it had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Bradley. St. Mary’s Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506–07, 113 S.Ct. 2742, 2746–47, 125 L.Ed.2d 407 (1993); Texas Dep’t of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 253–55, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1093–95, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981). To rebut the prima facie case, Harcourt must “produc[e] an explanation” for its actions, that is, it must show that the employment action was taken for “a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason.” St. Mary’s Honor Ctr., 509 U.S. at 506–07, 113 S.Ct. at 2747 (citation omitted). Supported by the declaration of Evelyn Sasmor, Harcourt presented two reasons for Bradley’s termination: (1) inadequate work performance; and (2) behavior not in accordance with customary business practices (requesting a subordinate to lie). Harcourt has met its burden by articulating a legitimate reason for discharge. Thus, the presumption of unlawful discrimination “simply drops out of the picture,” id. at 511, 113 S.Ct. at 2749, and Bradley bears the ultimate burden of persuading the court that the stated reason for the discharge was false and the true reason for the discharge was unlawful sex discrimination. Id. at 507–08, 113 S.Ct. at 2747–48; Lindahl v. Air France, 930 F.2d 1434, 1437 (9th Cir.1991). To avoid summary judgment, Bradley “must do more than establish a prima facie case and deny the credibility of the [defendant’s] witnesses.” Wallis v. J.R. Simplot Co., 26 F.3d 885, 890 (9th Cir.1994) (citation omitted). She must produce “specific, substantial evidence of pretext.” Id. Bradley produced no meaningful evidence indicating either that Harcourt’s proffered explanation was false or that her supervisor harbored discriminatory animus towards her because she was a woman. Bradley claims she had been performing her job adequately and had received no feedback indicating otherwise. However, an employee’s subjective personal judgments of her competence alone do not raise a genuine issue of material fact. Schuler v. Chronicle Broadcasting Co., Inc., 793 F.2d 1010, 1011 (9th Cir.1986). Further, Bradley does not dispute asking the subordinate to lie. Bradley argues that her supervisor’s real reason for terminating her was sex discrimination, because she wanted to give Bradley’s position to a male. However, Sasmor, the person who terminated Bradley, is the same person who originally made the decision to hire her less than a year earlier. In this context, Bradley’s allegation that her supervisor wanted a male in the position is at best suspicious. If Sasmor had preferred to place a man in the position, we can see no reason why she would have hired a woman only a year earlier. As the Fourth Circuit has observed: One is quickly drawn to the realization that claims that employer animus exists in termination but not in hiring seem irrational. From the standpoint of the putative discriminator, it hardly makes sense to hire workers from a group one dislikes (thereby incurring the psychological costs of associating with them), only to fire them once they are on the job. Proud v. Stone, 945 F.2d 796, 797 (4th Cir.1991) (quotations omitted). We therefore hold that where the same actor is responsible for both the hiring and the firing of a discrimination plaintiff, and both actions occur *271 within a short period of time, a strong inference arises that there was no discriminatory motive. See Lowe v. J.B. Hunt Transp., Inc., 963 F.2d 173 (8th Cir.1992) (finding argument that company developed aversion to older people less than two years after hiring member of protected age group “simply incredible”); Buhrmaster v. Overnite Transp. Co., 61 F.3d 461, 464 (6th Cir.1995) (“An individual who is willing to hire and promote a person of a certain class is unlikely to fire them simply because they are a member of that class.”), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1078, 116 S.Ct. 785, 133 L.Ed.2d 736 (1996). But see Waldron v. SL Indus., Inc., 56 F.3d 491, 495 n. 6 (3d Cir.1995) (refusing to follow Proud and accord presumptive value to the fact that the same actor hired and fired the plaintiff, instead considering this fact to be evidence of non-discrimination). Bradley cannot rebut this inference. She points to Sasmor’s interaction with Bradley’s subordinate Tom Jackson as evidence of sex discrimination, claiming that Sasmor: held conversations with Jackson and without Bradley to discuss procedures within the department; assigned work to Jackson without Bradley’s knowledge; believed his accounts of events over Bradley’s prior to any investigation; lent more credence to Jackson’s opinion on technical matters; stated that “he is wonderful;” and invited Jackson’s criticism of a project of Bradley’s. These allegations do not establish that Sasmor terminated Bradley because of sex discrimination. Nothing indicates that Sasmor’s favoritism of Jackson stemmed from his sex rather than his competence or performance, particularly in light of Bradley’s inadequate performance during the same period.” Bradley v. Harcourt, Brace & Co., 104 F.3d 267, 270–71 (9th Cir. 1996)