9th Circuit Reverses Boeing Discrimination Decision

August 20, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has brought forth enough evidence that a reasonable jury could find The Boeing Company discriminated against two female employees who were chosen to be terminated in a reduction in force (RIF).

The appellate court concluded the EEOC established a case on Antonia Castron’s behalf because of direct evidence of discriminatory animus. According to the court opinion: “In RIF cases, a plaintiff can ‘show through circumstantial, statistical or direct evidence that the discharge occurred under circumstances giving rise to an inference of . . . discrimination.'”

Castron’s supervisor frequently made demeaning and derogatory comments about women, the opinion said, and the court ruled these comments, considered along with the supervisor’s interactions with Castron over the course of her employment at Boeing, are sufficient to create an inference of discriminatory motive even though the comments were not directed specifically at Castron or made in regard to decisions about her employment.

Additionally, the court found there is sufficient evidence from which a jury could find that Castron’s later poor RIF evaluation scores, which led to her termination, were pretextual, since Castron’s supervisor in her new department had previously referred to Castron as a “little girl” and made a “joking” inquiry as to whether she “broke a nail.” The comments constitute at least some evidence of discriminatory animus.

Similarly, the appellate court ruled the EEOC produced evidence from which a jury could conclude that Renee Wrede’s RIF assessment was pretextual. In October 2002, one year after Boeing substantiated a sexual harassment claim Renee Wrede had filed, she received lower RIF scores than most engineers in her skill code and was subsequently terminated, according to the opinion.

The scores were lower than the scores she had received in two previous RIF evaluations, and although several male engineers were also initially selected for termination, none was ultimately terminated because they either successfully contested their scores or found other employment within Boeing, sometimes with the assistance of their supervisors.

The court also said coworker testimony regarding why the RIF assessments of Wrede’s skills were not credible is particularly relevant because it would allow a jury to infer that Boeing’s proffered reason for termination — a poor RIF evaluation — was not only inaccurate, but unworthy of credence.

The decision in EEOC v. The Boeing Company is here .