STINNETT v. CITY OF CHICAGO (JANUARY 4, 2011)
Gregory Stinnett was a black male Ambulance Commander in Chicago's Fire Department. He took the promotional exam for Field Officer in 2000. Based on his score and seniority, he ranked 32nd. Over the next several years, the Department promoted from the list on eight different occasions. By February of 2007, after the Department promoted two white officers, Stinnett's name was next in line and there were vacancies. Unfortunately, promotions for the additional vacancies were not budgeted. By the time of the next promotions in March 2008, the Department had retired the 2000 list and had administered a new exam -- and Stinnett went from 1st to 48th. He brought suit against the City, alleging that its failure to promote him violated Title VII. Judge St. Eve (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to the City. Stinnett appeals.
In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Posner, Tinder, and Hamilton affirmed. Under McDonnell Douglas, the Court noted that Stinnett can survive summary judgment if he shows that he was qualified for a promotion, was denied the promotion, a similarly situated member of another race got the promotion, and the City was unable to articulate a nondiscriminatory reason for its conduct. The district court concluded that Stinnett was not similarly situated to either a) the two white officers who were just ahead of Stinnett on the 2000 list and promoted in February 2007 or b) to all of the officers (some of whom were white) who had been promoted ahead of Stinnett from the 2007 list. The Court disagreed with the former. Stinnett was not claiming that he should have been promoted ahead of the two officers who ranked higher in 2007 -- he was claiming that the City should not have stopped filling vacancies when it got to him on the list. Thus, the Court concluded he was similarly situated to the last two promotions from the 2000 list because they were all eligible for the 2007 promotions. Getting past the similarly situated hurdle was not enough for Stinnett, however. The City's reasons for its behavior -- that it filled the only two budgeted promotions in 2007 and that it needed to update its promotion list from time to time to allow newer employees a chance for a promotion -- was reasonable. The fact that the last two promotions were white males and the next name on the list was that of a black male does not make its behavior suspicious. Also, the record clearly establishes that the Department official who closed down the 2000 list did not know whose name was next.