Monday, June 29, 2009
Court of Appeal Rejects Claim of Bias in Selection of DCFS Official
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district Friday rejected the claim of a longtime employee of the county Department of Children and Family Services that he was denied promotion to a regional administrator’s post because he is Hispanic.
William H. Garcia failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination and did not provide substantial evidence that the county’s explanation for giving the job to a black woman—that she was a stronger leader, had more management experience, and was more persuasive in her interview than Garcia—was pretextual, Justice Richard Aldrich said in an unpublished opinion for Div. Three.
The panel affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell’s order granting summary judgment in favor of the county.
Garcia has worked for DCFS since the 1970s, and was promoted to assistant regional administrator, the lowest level of senior management, in 1990. He applied for promotion to regional administrator in 2005 and was one of three finalists for two positions.
The other two finalists were Cleo Robinson and Jennifer Lopez, and they received the promotions. Garcia complained to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, received a right-to-sue letter, and brought suit in 2006.
The department presented a declaration by DCFS Deputy Director Amaryllis Watkins, who coordinated the selection process, was present during interviews, but was not a member of the panel that made the final decision. Watkins explained that she did not have a close relationship with any of the three finalists, that there was no mention of race or ethnicity during the process, and that she considered Garcia qualified for promotion but believed that the other two ranked higher.
Garcia, Watkins explained, did not “speak as knowledgeably as Ms. Robinson and Ms. Lopez about the recent changes in the Department’s mission or important new Department initiatives.”
Garcia acknowledged in response that no one involved in the hiring process had made a racially derogatory remark, to his knowledge. But the department, he said, preferred to hire African Americans, and particularly women.
He noted that Watkins is black, as are four regional administrators who worked under her.
Garcia asked the trial judge to consider a transcript of a civil service hearing in which a non-promoted employee testified that an assistant regional administrator told her that a higher-ranking official said the department preferred to promote blacks and not Hispanics. O’Donnell rejected the testimony as hearsay.
Aldrich, writing Friday for the Court of Appeal, noted that the burden is on the plaintiff in a discrimination case to make a prima facie showing of bias, in which event the burden shifts to the employer to show that it had legitimate reasons for the complained of employment action.
Garcia, the justice said, established three of the four elements of a prima facie case—that he was a member of a protected class, that he was qualified for the position he sought, and that he was the victim of an adverse employment action. But he failed to prove that the two women who received the promotions were not members of a protected class or that the county acted from a discriminatory motive.
Since Robinson is African American and Lopez Hispanic, Aldrich explained, Garcia could not carry his burden without showing discriminatory motive. The suggestion that Watkins must have discriminated because she and Robinson are both African Americans and others who have worked under Watkins—about whose hiring there was no evidence presented—“is merely supposition,” Aldrich said.
Attorneys on appeal were Judith A. Powell for the plaintiff and Calvin House of Gutierrez, Preciado & House for the county.
The case is Garcia v. County of Los Angeles, B204013.
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