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Sweeney v. Research Foundation of State University of New York

decided: June 29, 1983.

NANCY M. SWEENEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE RESEARCH FOUNDATION OF THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Miner, Judge, following a bench trial denying appellate relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and directing entry of judgment in favor of appellee.

Pierce, Winter and Pratt, Circuit Judges.

Author: Pierce

PIERCE, Circuit Judge:

Nancy M. Sweeney appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Roger J. Miner, Judge, entered October 15, 1982, denying relief for alleged acts of sex discrimination which she claims were committed against her by defendant-appellee Research Foundation of the State University of New York (Research Foundation) in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-2(a)(1) (1976). Specifically, Sweeney alleges that she was denied appointment as a Systems Analyst in 1972 and thereafter because of her sex. The district court held that Sweeney had not proven a Title VII violation in that she had failed to carry her burden of persuading the court that appellee's acts were motivated by a discriminatory animus. The issues we address on appeal are: (1) whether plaintiff-appellant met her burden of establishing a prima facie case of a violation; (2) if so, whether defendant-appellee met its burden of going forward and presenting a legitimate, non-discriminatory basis for its action, and (3) if so, whether plaintiff-appellant met her burden of persuading the court that the acts in question were, nevertheless, motivated by a discriminatory animus.

For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the district court's holding that appellant established a prima facie case; that appellee met its burden of going forward; and that appellant failed to meet her burden of persuasion.

I. Facts

Appellee Research Foundation is an educational, non-profit corporation, chartered by the New York State Board of Regents in 1951 and existing under New York law. Its corporate purposes include the receipt and administration of grants and contributions for the benefit of the State University of New York and the financing of studies and research in the arts and sciences. Sweeney was hired by appellee in 1959 and has been employed by appellee since then for all but two years. During the early part of her employment with Research Foundation, appellant held several non-professional positions, including Accounts Payable Supervisor, Payroll Clerk, and Grant Accountant. In October, 1968, she was promoted to Personnel Assistant in the Foundation's Administrative Division, which was headed by Winifred Widmer. This costituted her first "professional level" assignment and followed her earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from Russell Sage College. Personnel Assistant was a professional grade level P-6 position.*fn1 As a Personnel Assistant, Sweeney recruited persons to fill vacancies that occurred in the organization. Her performance in that position was considered excellent, and her salary was increased accordingly. However, according to her trial testimony, Sweeney felt frustrated in that position because her duties included minority recruitment in an affirmative action program, and she felt that appellee was not committed to the program.

In July, 1970, Sweeney was promoted to the position of Overseas Travel Specialist, a professional grade level P-5 position,*fn2 which was one grade level higher than the Personnel Assistant position. As Overseas Travel Specialist, she worked within the Foundation's Information Services Division, coordinating student overseas travel programs established at various State University campuses throughout the state. She was also assigned certain duties related to systems analysis and design. The Foundation's travel program was eliminated in the summer of 1971, and her coordinating functions terminated at that time. She was then assigned additional duties normally performed by Systems Analysts, such as developing procedures to be translated to computer programs for the payroll system. In September and October of 1971, she was enrolled at appellee's expense in three courses, each lasting several days, dealing with computer hardware and systems analysis.

The Overseas Travel Specialist position was eliminated in April, 1972. On April 1, 1972, Sweeney was transferred from the Information Services Division back to the Administrative Division and she resumed the title of Personnel Assistant. This transfer was made despite her expressed desire to remain in the Information Services Division as a Research Analyst, and the expressed desire of James Dillon, Assistant Director for that Division, that she remain in an Analyst position. It appears that at that time, 1972, there were no Systems Analyst openings and the Foundation was operating on an "austerity budget." At the time of the transfer, Sweeney's salary remained the same as it had been in the Overseas Travel Specialist position, but her grade level was decreased from a P-5 to a P-6, with a lower maximum annual salary.*fn3 As Personnel Assistant, she was once again assigned to coordinate affirmative action programs. In addition, she coordinated major systems conversions to computer utilization.

In August, 1972, appellant was transferred to the position of Senior Administrative Assistant, also a grade level P-6 position, in the Administrative Division. In this position, Sweeney did work in the publications area.*fn4 This transfer was made in response to her assertion that her ability to perform her affirmative action functions was impaired by what she perceived to be a continuing lack of commitment by the Foundation to the program. She has remained in that position since that date, has consistently done work in the publications area, and currently serves as Editor of the publication "SUNY Research 82." Since 1972, her salary has increased from $11,150 on April 6, 1972 to $22,155 as of March 18, 1982 and her professional classification has been upgraded. She testified at trial that she presently finds her position in the publications area to be "quite rewarding" and her career direction "quite satisfactory."

Sweeney asserts that in the years between 1972 and 1978, she continued to express an interest in a Systems Analyst Position, and that a number of openings for Systems Analysts occurred during that period. In particular, on November 1, 1972, a male Junior Systems Analyst was promoted to Systems Analyst; one Systems Analyst vacancy was filled by a male in April of 1973, and another in June of 1974, also by a male. Moreover, she asserts that between 1968 and 1972, fifteen males and no females were employed as Systems Analysts. She concedes that as of July, 1978, she was no longer qualified for a Systems Analyst position.

In a letter dated July 25, 1972, from Sweeney to the United States Federal Contracts Compliance Division, Office of Civil Rights, Department of Health, Education and Welfare, she registered a complaint of "unfair and unequal employment treatment," and charged that appellee was guilty of sex discrimination which she claimed was evidenced by "the April 1, 1972 demotional transfer." In a letter dated August 28, 1972, the Federal Contracts Compliance Division informed Sweeney that her complaint had been sent to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Following various proceedings, she filed a formal charge with the EEOC on September 9, 1974, incorporating the above complaint charging sex discrimination and citing the alleged demotional transfer. Another reason assigned for the alleged unfair treatment was the possible rivalry between Division Heads Widmer (Administrative Division) and Dillon (Information Division). Regarding the alleged demotion, she stated:

I do not know why a Lateral Transfer could not have been made, in other words, making this Federal Affirmative Action job on the same Professional Grade 5 level as was the Overseas Travel Specialist. But as I have already eluded [sic] above to the "Rivalry" between the two Division Heads [Dillon and Widmer], I find it very understandable that this demotion evened the "score." Miss Widmer, by having me back in her Division, evened the "score" with Mr. Dillon, and by demoting me, she is punishing me for "putting in with the enemy" as it were, in the summer of 1970.

In a Determination dated February 17, 1977, the EEOC found that reasonable cause existed to believe that Sweeney was discriminated against because of her sex in violation of Title VII. In reaching this conclusion, the Commission noted the employment by appellee of 15 males from 1968 to 1977 for the position of Systems Analyst, and cited more general statistics of ...


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