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Fourth Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment In Failure To Promote Case

Published by on December 31, 2009

In an unpublished opinion (Wesley v. Arlington County), the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the employer in a failure to promote case brought by a firefighter.  More after the break. Tiffanye Wesley had been a firefighter with the Arlington County Fire Department since 1994.  She applied for the position of […]

In an unpublished opinion (Wesley v. Arlington County), the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the employer in a failure to promote case brought by a firefighter.  More after the break.

Tiffanye Wesley had been a firefighter with the Arlington County Fire Department since 1994.  She applied for the position of Captain but was not promoted even though she had met all of the eligibility requirements and passed the written test.  In her suit against the county, she alleged that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her race and gender.  The district granted the county’s motion for summary judgment, stating that Wesley had not established a prima facie case of discrimination because she had not shown that she was qualified for the position. 

On appeal to the Fourth Circuit, the court found that Wesley had produced sufficient evidence that she was objectively qualified for the promotion.  The court pointed out that Wesley had passed the written test for the promotion on two different occasions, and she had been rated as “more than qualified” by the department.  The county argued that there were several other qualifications that Wesley had to have in order to be “qualified” for purposes of establishing her prima facie case.  The court disagreed and found that Wesley had met the minimum objective criteria for eligibility, and that the other qualifications argued by the county were at least partially duplicative of the requirements for taking the written test.  The court went on to state that Wesley “need not establish that she was the most qualified person for the position, only that she met the job requirements and thus was qualified for the position of Captain.” 

The court further concluded that Wesley had raised genuine issues of fact about whether the department’s reasons for failing to promote her were pretextual.  The court stated that the fact that the department cited certain “marginally relevant” qualifications as being very important while disregarding other seemingly more relevant ones, specifically all of the qualifications that Wesley possessed, raised a genuine question of fact as to what criteria actually went into play in making the promotion decision.  The court held that a reasonable jury could find that the department’s proffered reasons were mere pretext for discrimination.

In a separate dissent, former Chief Judge Wilkinson disagreed, noting that “[b]ecause the record in this case provides no reasonable basis to infer that the Department’s reasons for not promoting Wesley were false, much less that the actual reason was race or sex, her claims must fail.”

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