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Luceus v. State of Rhode Island

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

May 8, 2019

ERIKA D. LUCEUS, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND; RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND TRAINING, Defendants, Appellees, ROBERT LANGLAIS; KATHY CATANZARO; ROSE LEMOINE; JESSICA JOHNSON; JASON BLISS WOHLERS, Defendants.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND [Hon. William E. Smith, U.S. District Judge]

          Casby Harrison, III for appellant.

          Katherine Connolly Sadeck, Special Assistant Attorney General, with whom Michael W. Field, Assistant Attorney General, was on brief, for appellees.

          Before Thompson, Circuit Judge, Souter, [*] Associate Justice, and Lipez, Circuit Judge.

          SOUTER, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE.

         Erika Luceus, an employee of the call center of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, sued the Department and the State of Rhode Island for discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. Luceus claimed that the Department's promotion practices have a disparate impact on minority employees, and that the Department has declined to promote her because she is black. The District Court granted summary judgment to the defendants, from which Luceus appeals. We affirm.

         I

         Summary judgment is warranted if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). We review the District Court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Jones v. City of Boston, 752 F.3d 38, 46 (1st Cir. 2014).

         A

         We begin with Luceus's claim of disparate impact. Title VII bars the use of facially neutral "'employment practices that cause[] a disparate impact on the basis of race' unless those practices are justified by business necessity." Id. (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(k)). Luceus alleges that the Department's use of "three-day-rule assignments" as a first step leading to promotion of lower-level employees at the call center has a disparate impact on minority employees. A three-day-rule assignment is a temporary appointment made by the Department to fill a vacant position.[1] The Department, however, sometimes makes such appointments permanent. Luceus alleges that three-day-rule assignments are awarded more often to white employees than minority employees, and that white employees thus are more likely to receive permanent promotions. The record shows that between 2009 and September 2014 (when she first complained to the Department's human resources office), only one minority employee received a three-day-rule assignment, as compared with seven white employees. Luceus also provides affidavits from eight coworkers who attest that minority employees are less likely to receive three-day-rule assignments.

         This evidence, however, is not enough by itself to make a prima facie showing of disparate impact. Except in unusual cases of overwhelming evidence, intuition is not to be trusted, and in order to reach the required prima facie threshold a plaintiff ordinarily must demonstrate that there is "a significant statistical disparity" between the employment outcomes for white and non-white employees. Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 587 (2009). To be sure, "the absence of such analyses, by itself, does not automatically doom the plaintiff's efforts." EEOC v. Steamship Clerks Union, Local 1066, 48 F.3d 594, 606 (1st Cir. 1995). Statistical analysis may not be necessary in a case with a "singularly compelling factual context," in which "the logical force of the conclusion that the numbers suggest" is obvious. Id. at 604-605. But the data provided by Luceus do not bespeak such an exceptional case. This is the usual case, in which evidence of a statistical character is needed to show that any disparities are "unlikely to have occurred by chance." Fudge v. City of Providence Fire Dep't, 766 F.2d 650, 658 (1st Cir. 1985)

         Here, Luceus has failed to demonstrate "a significant statistical disparity" on the basis of race. Ricci, 557 U.S. at 587. She has not presented any expert testimony or statistical computations demonstrating that the alleged disparities in three-day-rule assignments did not "occur[] by chance." Fudge, 766 F.2d at 658. Indeed, she has not even presented reliable data on which a statistical conclusion would rest, because she has not established the racial composition of the pools of employees eligible for three-day-rule assignments in the instances she cites. Hence, the District Court explained that the record does not indicate "the number of management-ready minority and white union members" at the call center where Luceus works. Luceus v. Rhode Island, No. 15-cv-489, 2018 WL 1626263, at *7 (D.R.I. Mar. 30, 2018). This "fail[ure] to provide important information regarding the pool of applicants" is a critical "flaw[] in the statistical evidence." See LeBlanc v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 6 F.3d 836, 848 (1st Cir. 1993).

         Although this deficiency alone would doom the disparate impact claim, the defendants offered evidence that the racial disparities alleged by Luceus were not statistically significant. Using the data she provided, they presented expert analysis demonstrating that there was "no statistically significant evidence of a disparate impact" stemming from the three-day-rule assignments that were the subject of Luceus's complaint. Affidavit of Dr. Craig Lawson Moore ¶¶ 47-49. Luceus offers no comparable rebuttal of this analysis.

         In sum, based on the record, we conclude that this is not a case in which Luceus can show a disparate impact in the absence of statistical and statistically significant evidence. Cf. Steamship Clerks, 48 F.3d at 606. Because she has failed to provide such evidence, the District Court ...


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