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Lee v. National Can Corp.

decided: February 8, 1983.

ROBERT E. LEE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
NATIONAL CAN CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 78 C 3466 -- George N. Leighton, Judge.

Bauer, Posner, Circuit Judges, and Hoffman, Senior District Judge.*fn*

Author: Bauer

BAUER, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-appellee Robert E. Lee brought this action pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e et seq., alleging that Defendant-appellant National Can Corporation refused to hire Lee because of his race. The district court, after a bench trial, entered judgment for the plaintiff, and awarded Lee $55,306.94 in back pay plus attorney's fees and costs.

National Can's principal claim on appeal is that Lee failed to prove that National Can refused him employment because of his race. Reversal is further urged on the grounds that: the district court's conclusion that Lee was a credible witness was clearly erroneous; the district court's refusal to allow cross-examination with regard to Lee's character for untruthfulness constituted reversible error; and the district judge impermissibly based his decision on his perception of the prevalence of race discrimination in employment and his unsupported presumption that National Can engaged in such discrimination.*fn1

We share the district court's concern over the prevalence of race discrimination in employment. Our review of the record in this case, however, compels the conclusion that Lee failed to prove that National Can refused him employment because of his race. Therefore, we reverse.

I. Background

The Equipment Manufacturing Division (EMD) of National Can Corporation is a small plant operated to provide machining services for National Can's production plants. Some time before May of 1977 the EMD facility began advertising for "Journeyman Machinists" with a minimum of five years experience.

On May 10, 1977, Lee, who is black, applied for a machinist's job at the EMD. Lee was required to complete a standard "National Can Corporation Application for Employment." The application called for information concerning Lee's marital status, education, military service, and employment history. Lee completed the application, and signed it beneath a certification which reads: "I hereby certify that the information given by me in this form is true and correct and I agree that if I am employed, and it is found at any time that such information is false, I will be subject to dismissal without notice."

After completing his written application, Lee was interviewed by Michael Glynn, the personnel manager at the EMD. The interview with Glynn was designed to screen out those applicants with unsatisfactory job histories, or who lacked the necessary qualifications for the positions being filled. Although Glynn noted that Lee had not worked during the preceding nine months, he allowed Lee to continue with the application process.

The next stage of the EMD hiring process was a technical interview; Lee was to be interviewed by Joseph Turczak, the machine shop supervisor. Turczak, however, was tied up in a production meeting at the time Glynn finished Lee's screening interview. Because he did not know when Truczak would be available, Glynn offered Lee the choice of waiting or rescheduling the technical interview. Although Lee waited for some time, he left the EMD building without being interviewed by Turczak.

No decision was made with respect to Lee's application on May 10, 1977. Glynn testified at trial that Lee's application was considered "pending" on that date. Lee admitted that no one told him on May 10 that he would not be hired.

Nonetheless, on the following day, May 11, 1977, Lee filed an EEOC charge against National Can. In the charge, Lee alleged that the "shop foreman"*fn2 had interviewed white applicants during the time that Lee was waiting to see Turczak. The EEOC charge further alleged that Lee had returned to the EMD on May 11, but had not been afforded an opportunity to meet with Turczak.*fn3 After an investigation of Lee's refusal to hire allegation, the EEOC concluded that there was not reasonable cause to believe that Title VII had been violated.

Sometime before June 7, 1977, National Can revised its help-wanted advertisement for EMD machinists; the new advertisement featured a mail-in coupon. Lee, who had begun working at Bell and Howell on May 15, 1977, answered the mail-in advertisement for EMD machinists using the name "Edward ...


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