A white female adjunct instructor can sue Lincoln Land Community College for race and gender discrimination because the college's equal opportunity officer added a black male instructor to the candidate pool, among other "circumstantial" evidence of possible bias, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
The decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit stems from a 2003 lawsuit by Janine Rudin. In 2002, she was one of more than 100 applicants for a tenure-track position in business administration at Lincoln Land, the Springfield, Ill., two-year college where she had taught as an adjunct for nearly a decade.
A screening committee selected Rudin as one of numerous candidates to interview, and then, in accordance with the college's hiring policy, the committee sent its list to the college's equal opportunity compliance officer for review. The compliance officer then added another Lincoln Land adjunct, Paul Hudson, an African-American male, to the interview pool, in consultation with the department's chairman, Richard Bowen.
After various members of the screening committee interviewed the various candidates, one member of the panel canvassed the committee's members and compiled rankings of the candidates, rating Rudin second-highest and Hudson second to last. According to the appeals court, the parties dispute whether Bowen, the department chairman, had the committee's rankings in hand when he recommended that the college hire Hudson, which he did in April 2002. In May, over the objections of Rudin, the college's Board of Trustees hired Hudson.
Rudin sued a year later, charging the college with race and sex discrimination, but a federal judge dismissed both claims on summary judgment.
The Seventh Circuit appeals panel, though, saw the case differently, declaring that enough "circumstantial" evidence exists to justify a trial on whether or not the college discriminated against Rudin.
"The fact that Hudson was inserted into the interview pool based on his race, when combined with the other facts and circumstances of this case, is certainly relevant and probative evidence that a trier of fact may consider in determining whether LLCC had the requisite intent to discriminate when it hired Hudson instead of the plaintiff," the panel said in its opinion.
Among the other factors cited by the appeals panel as evidence of possible discrimination were (1) statements by the department chairman that he faced significant administrative pressure to hire a minority candidate, (2) the college's failure to follow its own hiring procedures, because the screening committee never met as a group to discuss the candidates' relative strengths and weaknesses, and (3) Lincoln Land's "inconsistent" and "shifting justification" for why it hired Hudson over Rudin.
The appeals panel also concluded that the lower court erred in dismissing Rudin's claim of sex discrimination, finding that "a rational jury could indeed believe that LLCC was not truthful about its proffered reasons for hiring Hudson."
With its decision, the Seventh Circuit sends the case back to federal court in Illinois for a jury trial on whether or not Lincoln Land actually discriminated.
In a prepared statement issued by a spokeswoman, Lynn Whalen, Lincoln Land noted that the court's ruling does not imply "that LLCC has discriminated against anyone. It simply means that the court believes there are questions of fact and all questions of fact must be resolved by a jury.
It added: "The court took the opportunity to state that it was not passing judgment on whether the plaintiff could prove her case at trial. We believe that she will be unable to do so."