A federal appeals court has given the go-ahead for two former employees of Boeing at its Mesa plant to sue the company for discrimination.
In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said district court Judge Frederick Martone was wrong to throw out the complaints of Antonia Castron and Renee Wrede before they were given a chance to argue their claims to a jury. The judges said the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which represents the pair, presented sufficient evidence to show that there is a basis for their lawsuit.
The ruling does not mean that they have won their case, but it simply gives them their day in court.
Court records from the 2005 lawsuit show that Castron, after working sporadically for Boeing for several years, joined its electrical engineering department in 1997 as a liaison engineer. From 1998 until she was let go in 2003, she worked under department manager Bill Charlton, who reviewed the performance evaluations given by supervisors to liaison engineers.
In a deposition, a male Boeing employee said Charlton frequently made “demeaning and derogatory” comments about women, ranging from he “just didn’t have time” to train them to that they were “not worth a (expletive).”
This male employee said Charlton said his own ex-wife, a Boeing worker, “should be at home, not working” and that women should come to him trained, an expectation he never mentioned about male engineers.
At the suggestion of another supervisor, Castron asked to be transferred to another department for career advancement rather than harassment. She did not get the transfer she requested but, after a period of time, she was moved to another department, this one under a supervisor who she said had referred to her as a “little girl.”
Castron said she also was concerned that this new department was outside her core area of expertise, fearing that would make her vulnerable in a planned reduction in force. Despite the fact that Charlton assured her she would not be subject to the RIF cuts, she was let go.
Wrede’s situation was different, being let go after getting low scores on an RIF evaluation despite recording higher ones previously.
The court also noted that she and six men with her same skill codes were given RIF notices, though all the men managed to avoid layoffs. Five were offered other positions within Boeing. Wrede said she was never told about those other spots.
Justice Michael Hawkins, writing for the appellate court, said anyone bringing alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination, “must first establish a prima facie case of discrimination by offering evidence that gives rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination.”
At that point, he said, the employer needs to “articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the challenged action.” Then it is up to the employee to show that the proffered reason is just pretext.
In the case of Castron, Hawkins said, the EEOC said there was enough evidence to show that her supervisor acted improperly in how he denied her initial transfer request and, subsequently, how she was transferred to another department.
“Taking note of all the direct and circumstantial evidence, a jury might conclude that Charlton deliberately set Castron up to fail because of her sex or because of her invocation of Title VII rights,” the judge said.
As to Wrede, Hawkins said there is enough for her to pursue the case because of the fact that she was the only employee who received an RIF that was actually let go, and the only woman in the group. He said a jury also could find, based on testimony by others, that her RIF scores were not credible.
The appellate court initially issued its decision in April, but the judges decided earlier this month to honor a request by EEOC to “publish” it, meaning its findings of what constitutes discrimination can be cited as precedent in future discrimination cases.