He received a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1955 from Alabama A & M College with a major in agronomy and a minor in chemistry. Within two years of his graduation he secured employment with the Department. Despite his college training and degree, his entry classification was a GS-2, agricultural aide. His advancement was unremarkable. Between 1957 and 1964 he was promoted through successive grade levels and by mid-1964 he had obtained his present GS-9 grade level.
In the several succeeding years, Jackson's efforts to secure further promotion were unrewarded. On occasions his supervisors extended various promises, but to his disappointment, these were not fulfilled. Finally, on November 15, 1973, he filed a formal complaint of racial discrimination in employment against the Department. Shortly thereafter, on May 2, 1974, he filed a second formal complaint alleging interference, coercion and reprisal arising from his original complaint.
For the 20 year period of his employment, plaintiff worked primarily in a research unit dealing with ruminant animals. Until mid-1973, he was assigned positions of increasing responsibility and had reasonable expectations of a promotion to a GS-11 level. At various times throughout this period he was independently engaged in research on nutrition and agricultural chemicals and their related biochemistry, physiology and pathology in sheep. While so engaged, he was responsible for designing experiments, experimental management, including the maintenance of experimental records, collecting them into permanent form, summarizing and interpreting the data, and preparing manuscripts for publication. He performed a variety of chemical analyses and supervised a limited number of animal caretakers and technicians as assigned. In turn he was supervised by a higher grade research scientist.
The quality and level of Jackson's performance was recognized in 1970 when a request for his promotion to a GS-11 research technician position was submitted. An audit of his then work assignment by personnel indicated, however, that his position was appropriately classified at the Grade-9 level. The audit report also documented the requirements for his classification as a GS-11.
Following the position classifier's report, plaintiff's immediate supervisors, Mr. Ivan Lindahl and Dr. Paul Reynolds, adjusted and realigned his duties, giving him increased responsibilities and a variety of experiences to support an anticipated second request for his promotion. The credible and undisputed testimony shows that the plaintiff continued in research activities, which were largely independent; that he published papers in professional journals as senior author and as co-author; that on at least one occasion he presented a paper on behalf of the Department at a scientific meeting; and, otherwise enjoyed the encouragement and support of his supervisors and peers.
A second request for Jackson's promotion to a GS-11 research technician was processed in April, 1972. The data required by the Personnel Office to support the request were prepared and submitted by Lindahl and Reynolds, with input from the plaintiff. The position description submitted in Jackson's behalf included a description of his research assignment, supervision received, supervisory and team leadership, and his research accomplishments. Until July, 1972, Lindahl had been Jackson's supervisor. He had first-hand knowledge of his development, work assignments and capabilities. He testified in substance that plaintiff was performing beyond a GS-9 level. While he readily admitted that he was not a personnel classifier, he gave a fair and objective opinion that Jackson was certainly deserving of a GS-11 classification.
Plaintiff's promotion request was caught in a freeze on personnel actions brought about by a pending reorganization. As a result, in July 1972 it was stayed and returned without action along with at least two other promotion requests. However, two of the returned requests, that of a white male and a white female, were resubmitted on August 16, 1972 and received favorable action. Dr. Robert Oltjen, a key supervisory official of ARS at that time, testified that he knew personally the two employees, that they had worked under him before the reorganization, and that he had first-hand knowledge of them because of his position. They were promoted within several months of resubmission and the government presented no testimony and made no proffer to justify the priority and favorable treatment given them. Jackson's promotion request, however, was held and delayed for at least six weeks beyond that of the two white employees before any action was initiated. The record is clear and the reasonable inference to be drawn is that the white employees were the immediate beneficiaries of their earlier personal contact with Oltgen.
On September 25, 1972, plaintiff's supervisors certified a second request for personnel action as a research technician. The new request failed to include the necessary supporting data. Indeed, the required information was not forwarded through channels until weeks later. The Administrative Record contains Oltjen's statement to the effect that he had instructions from Personnel to delay resubmitting the promotion requests but that they were not delayed any longer than the regulations permitted. This fails to explain, however, why plaintiff's promotion request trailed those of the white employees by more than one month, nor is it clear why plaintiff's supporting documentation was delayed in the first instance.
Jackson's promotion request was ranked with a "moderate to low priority" and was the only one to contain any type of ranking. Shortly after reorganization, matters were uncertain and many personnel actions were held up because of the freeze. While guidelines and instructions were developed at the higher levels of the Agricultural Research Service, Oltjen testified that he was not certain if he ever received written instructions. Priorities were to be established for handling promotion requests and he was asked to rank the personnel in his Laboratory for promotion. He testified at trial that the medium to low priority assigned to plaintiff's promotion request had nothing to do with merit but only one of timing, that everything would move along. However, in a deposition on October 26, 1976, he responded:
Q. Would the "moderate to low" mean that it was a priority of timing, rather than a priority of merit?
A. I don't recall any feelings one way or another four years ago.