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THOMPSON v. INTERNATIONAL ASSN. OF MACHINISTS

July 31, 1985

JOYCELYN A. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS AND AEROSPACE WORKERS, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN

 Plaintiff Joycelyn A. Thompson brings this action against the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers ("IAM") and four officials of that union to redress alleged employment discrimination and retaliation. Plaintiff, a black woman, claims that she was discharged from her job as Assistant Director of the IAM Human Rights Department on account of her race and sex and that defendants retaliated against her for engaging in certain advocacy activities protected by statute. In her amended complaint, *fn1" plaintiff sets forth claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII") (race, sex and retaliatory discrimination), Section 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1966, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981") (race discrimination only), the Ku Klux Klan Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) ("§ 1985(3)") (conspiracy to deprive plaintiff of her right to be free from race, sex or retaliatory discrimination) and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code § 1-2501, et seq. (race, sex and retaliatory discrimination). The Title VII claim was subsequently dismissed as against three of the four individual defendants, Thompson v. IAM, 580 F. Supp. 662, 668-69 (D.D.C. 1984), *fn2" and the matter proceeded to trial.

 Over a five-day period the case was tried simultaneously to this judge (the factfinder on the Title VII claim) and to a jury (the trier of fact on the remaining claims). At the close of the evidence, the Court reserved decision on the Title VII action but entered judgment on the jury verdict denying the § 1981 claim, but finding for plaintiff on the § 1985(3) and DCHRA claims. The jury assessed compensatory damages against defendants in the amount of $2,000 and punitive damages in the amount of $200,000. Defendants promptly filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("n.o.v.") or, in the alternative, for a new trial. That motion and supporting papers, plaintiff's opposition thereto and defendants' reply, as well as the entirety of the Title VII cause of action, are now before the Court.

 Several of defendants' arguments in support of their motion for judgment n.o.v. or, alternatively, for a new trial address the sufficiency or weight of the evidence on the basis of (1) the instructions given, (2) the verdict as to liability, and (3) the jury's award of damages. In recognition of the overlap between the issues raised by defendants' alternative motion and the Title VII claim -- both of which are matters for the Court's consideration -- the evidence will be reviewed for both purposes below.

 I. Summary of the Evidence

 Plaintiff's discrimination and retaliation claims -- however styled -- turn on defendants' motive in discharging plaintiff from the assistant directorship of the IAM Human Rights Department on June 29, 1982. Defendants contend that plaintiff was fired because she displayed an unwillingness or inability to cooperate with her supervisor and with the goals of the human rights department generally. The theme of plaintiff's case is that she consistently "did a good job" for the IAM and that the proffered reasons for her termination are pretextual. Through the testimony of the parties, nonparty past and present IAM members, and numerous associates and acquaintances of plaintiff, considerable evidence in support of both theories was presented at trial.

 Plaintiff is a black woman born in 1941. A native of Guyana and self-described "product of the free trade union movement" in that country, she first came to the United States in 1962 on a student visa. After attending classes at the Cortez-Peters Business School from 1962, she enrolled at Howard University and received a bachelor's degree in economics from that institution in 1969. Plaintiff's undergraduate studies were principally directed to the labor movement in the Caribbean and South America, and she subsequently undertook post-graduate coursework with a concentration on labor union topics, as preparation for employment with a labor organization.

 In November, 1970 plaintiff was hired as a research associate (her first professional job) at the IAM International Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The IAM is a labor organization representing some 750,000 members. It is governed by its international convention, which meets every four years. Resolutions passed by the convention are implemented by the executive council composed of a president, a general secretary-treasurer, and nine vice presidents, some of whom are general vice presidents and some of whom cover geographical regions. The union's international headquarters is organized into various departments, including departments for research, education, human rights, community services and international affairs. Each department is headed by a director. Tr. 8-9. The four individual defendants to this action work for the IAM at its headquarters: William Winpisinger is currently the international president of the union, George Poulin and George Kourpias are both general vice presidents and Clark Johnson directs the human rights department.

 Plaintiff testified that her initial duties in the research department at IAM headquarters were to classify labor agreements negotiated by staff personnel in the field and to provide information to the field staff for their use in negotiations. Tr. 34. In 1973, plaintiff approached then-IAM president defendant Winpisinger to volunteer her services as a liaison between the IAM and various women's and civil rights organizations. According to Winpisinger, he enthusiastically supported her proposal, authorized her to take on the liaison role, and began channeling correspondence relating to women's issues to plaintiff. One of the numerous organizations in which plaintiff participated on behalf of the IAM was the Coalition of Labor Union Women ("CLUW"). Defendant Winpisinger testified that shortly after plaintiff began her liaison duties with CLUW, a handful of that organization's members protested to him that plaintiff lacked the hands-on shop floor experience that would best befit an IAM contact person in CLUW. Winpisinger responded that plaintiff should be given an opportunity to demonstrate her skills in the role, and (according to his testimony), the complaints "dried up immediately." Tr. 838. Several witnesses testified that, in general, plaintiff's contacts as an IAM spokeswoman with outside organizations benefited the union.

 In 1976, the IAM created a civil rights department at its international headquarters and in 1977, defendant Clark Johnson was appointed by then-IAM International President Winpisinger to head that department. Tr. 42, 838. A few months later, plaintiff expressed to Johnson her interest in obtaining a position in the civil rights department, and she subsequently formally applied for a position there. Although there may have been some discussion of appointing a white woman or Hispanic to assist Johnson, defendant George Poulin called plaintiff in December 1977 to notify her that she would be named by Winpisinger to be the civil rights department's assistant coordinator commencing January 1978. Tr. 43, 106-07. Plaintiff stated at trial that her primary duty in that position was to provide support to Johnson, assisting him in his efforts to eliminate workplace discrimination and performing other tasks as assigned. She divided her specific duties into three categories: (1) preparing instructional and educational material for use at conferences and workshops, (2) attending conferences and conducting seminars, and (3) continuing her liaison function with outside organizations. By plaintiff's estimate, between 50 and 70% of her time was devoted to women's issues Tr. 43, 110. There is no dispute that, at least at the outset, her work was well-received and she received no oral or written warnings that her performance was deficient in any way.

 Defendants contend that plaintiff's discharge in 1982 resulted from the thematic direction of her public appearances on behalf of the union and a deterioration in her relationship with her supervisors. At trial, much of the testimony presented focused on certain incidents which, defendants claim, form the foundation for that defense. One such incident (the basic facts of which are not disputed) occurred at the 1979 IAM Indiana State Council meeting held in Indianapolis and sponsored by the political arm of the IAM in that state. Plaintiff spoke before a group at that meeting on the topic of women in the economy. Her remarks grew praise from the audience; however, some of the women in the group noticed with disapproval that immediately before the speech, the regional vice president and leadership of the state organization had left the room. The chairman of the session returned to hear plaintiff; the others did not. As plaintiff was leaving the conference area on an elevator, the women asked why the officials -- who they felt should have attended plaintiff's presentation -- had left. Plaintiff responded that she did not know. When the regional vice president entered the elevator, plaintiff exited and suggested that the women direct their question to him. Some four months later, at defendant Poulin's request, plaintiff memorialized the incident in a handwritten memorandum. DX F. In that memorandum, she acknowledged that not all of the IAM regional vice presidents welcomed her into their territories and explained that for that very reason she had been careful to act in a diplomatic fashion when members of her audience confronted the regional vice president in the elevator.

 Another incident involving plaintiff occurred at the IAM general convention held in Cincinnati, Ohio in September 1980. Following a large caucus of female IAM members at the convention, arrangements were made for a subset of that group to meet to draft a resolution for the advancement of women in the union. At a daily staff meeting, plaintiff reported to her superiors that the meeting would take place, and defendant Poulin advised her that as director of the human rights department (formerly named the civil rights department), defendant Johnson would accompany her to the meeting. Defendant testified that she was concerned and upset by that decision because it "sent two signals" to the women -- that plaintiff was not trusted by her superiors or, alternatively, that she was not doing her job. Tr. 127. Plaintiff did not accompany Johnson to the meeting but instead arrived ahead of him. According to Johnson, his presence was not welcomed, but the meeting proceeded without incident. The following day, Johnson observed plaintiff crying at various times throughout the day at the civil rights information booth where she was stationed. Plaintiff testified that she was crying because she was upset that Johnson had been dispatched to the meeting of the women's group. The booth was visible to many people, and several gathered around to provide sympathy and comfort to plaintiff during the day. Defendants viewed the spectacle as an embarrassment to the union administration generally and to Johnson in particular, and plaintiff was reprimanded for her conduct upon her return to headquarters. Tr. 705-06.

 Yet another incident which was the subject of testimony occurred at the IAM training conference held at Placid Harbor, Maryland, in August 1981. The conference, as described by defendant Winpisinger, was the occasion for the unveiling of a training curriculum designed to equip the union's organizers to confront antiunion tactics in the field and to capture the allegiance of unorganized workers. Tr. 848. Each department was charged with preparing a presentation which would "homogenize [the department's program and goals] into an aggressive forward thrust." Tr. 848. So that the union's top leaders would know the substance of and vital need for the curriculum and would be able to critique and adjust it as necessary, defendant Winpisinger directed that the IAM executive council would be the first class to which the new program would be presented. Tr. 848-50.

 Plaintiff and defendant Johnson each delivered part of the presentation of the human rights department, plaintiff following Johnson to the podium. Winpisinger testified that some members of the audience, including himself, perceived tension and disagreement between the two, based in part on plaintiff's facial expressions and an apparent contrast in their themes. According to Winpisinger, Johnson's presentation was constructive and responsive to the assignment given, but plaintiff dwelled on the existing imbalance of minority representation in the union's top positions, rather than on the grassroots incentive programs which were the department's focus. Tr. 851. Winpisinger further testified that his reaction to the perceived infighting before the executive council was one of "unadulterated outrage" and that the council members in the audience were incensed as well. Tr. 846, 852.

 The occurrence and sequence of events in the above chronology is essentially undisputed: it is the significance of the various incidents that is the subject of controversy. Defendants argue that plaintiff's conduct at the 1979 Indiana council meeting, the 1980 convention and the 1981 Placid Harbor training seminar was indicative of her attitude generally. Each defendant testified that plaintiff did not work well with her supervisor, Clark Johnson, and refused to submit to his leadership in the human rights department. The defendants stated that over time, they came to realize that plaintiff sought control over that part of the department's program related to women's issues and resisted Johnson's participation in those matters. Defendants Winpisinger, Poulin and Kourpias further testified that plaintiff publicly belittled and undercut Johnson, whom she considered her intellectual inferior. Moreover, they testified that plaintiff appeared to have her own agenda for improving the union's racial balance, and used her position to advance her ideas (which called for an increase in appointments of blacks and women to high-level positions) over the union's program of grassroots development of minority opportunities in the field.

 To corroborate plaintiff's claim that the asserted basis for her discharge was pretextual, a number of plaintiff's professional associates testified that they had never heard plaintiff belittle the union, its program, or her superiors and that she was, to their knowledge, at all times an excellent spokeswoman for the IAM. Plaintiff admitted that she and Clark Johnson "had [their] differences", Tr. 113; DX Q, but she denied that any frustrations she may have felt affected her ability to serve as Johnson's subordinate. Charles Higgins, a white male who had served as assistant to the white male director of the IAM education department until December 1982, testified that both he and a white woman in another department clashed with their superiors without being discharged. In later testimony, defendant Winpisinger stated that the white woman to whom Higgins referred had not held a position analogous to plaintiff's: according to Winpisinger, that employee was hired as a trade specialist but was delegated to assist a department director based on her expertise in trade. Winpisinger unequivocally stated that she was not the director's assistant and when the two were unable to work together she simply resumed her original duties outside of that department. Tr. 864-65.

 Plaintiff also submitted that during defendant Winpisinger's term as international president of the union, only a small number of the available appointed positions in the union were awarded to minorities. At trial, Winpisinger disclaimed responsibility for the appointments made by vice presidents outside of headquarters, and contended that at ...


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