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Germane v. Heckler

decided: October 22, 1986.

CARMEN GERMANE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT
v.
MARGARET HECKLER, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, No. 81 C 1274, Aaron E. Goodstein, Magistrate.

Bauer, Chief Judge, and Coffey and Ripple, Circuit Judges.

Author: Bauer

BAUER, Chief Judge.

Carmen Germane is a former employee of the Milwaukee Office of the United States Department of Human Services' Office of Hearings and Appeals who claims she was discharged from that office in violation of Title VII, the Privacy Act, and the first and fifth amendments to the United States Constitution. She appeals the entry of judgment below denying her all relief and alleges several errors by the trial court. She claims the magistrate erred in finding that she was not fired on the basis of sex but rather for good cause, in denying her leave to amend her complaint, in dismissing Germane's Privacy Act claim for her failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and in refusing to consider bases for recovery under Title VII that were not included in her EEOC action. She further contends that the district court erred in referring Germane's case to a magistrate without her consent. We find no merit in Germane's arguments and affirm the judgment below.

I.

Carmen Germane was hired on December 3, 1979 as an attorney advisor in the Milwaukee Office of the United States Department of Human Services' Office of Hearings and Appeals ("OHA") to assist administrative law judges in drafting decisions. On July 2, 1980, OHA discharged Germane. OHA informed Germane that she was fired for five reasons: poor work product, failure to return timely drafts of decisions, poor performance, failure to draft decisions as requested, and poor attitude.

On September 25, 1981, Germane filed suit against OHA and three OHA employees. Her original complaint claimed violations of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ; the Fifth Amendment; and the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g). Defendants moved to dismiss all claims. In response, Germane asked leave to amend her complaint to include a First Amendment claim. The magistrate dismissed the individual defendants from the case, dismissed all claims against OHA except the Title VII claim, and denied Germane's motion to amend. Germane appealed this action, but the district court dismissed the appeal. Germane then asked and was granted leave to amend her complaint to cure technical deficiencies in her four Privacy Act claims.

Trial on the liability issues was held from June 11, 1984 to June 13, 1984. At the close of Germane's case, the magistrate granted OHA's motion to dismiss two of Germane's Privacy Act claims for lack of evidence but denied dismissal of the other two Privacy Act claims and the Title VII claim.

At the conclusion of trial, the magistrate entered judgment dismissing Germane's complaint. The magistrate dismissed Germane's Title VII claim because he found that Germane had not been discharged on the basis of her sex. He dismissed for lack of evidence Germane's Privacy Act claim based on OHA's premature disclosure of her termination to office personnel. Finally, he dismissed Germane's Privacy Act claim based on OHA's failure to maintain a proper personnel file because Germane had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies.

Germane appeals. She challenges as error the entry of judgment against her on her Privacy Act and Title VII claims, the denial of her first motion for leave to amend her complaint, and the referral of the case to a magistrate.

II.

Germane challenges the magistrate's finding that she was not fired on the basis of sex but rather for valid cause. Her attack on this finding is two-pronged. First, she claims the magistrate erred in looking only to the personal motives of the OHA official who actually fired Germane rather than also looking to the motives of those who gave information about Germane to that official that may have influenced his decision. Second, Germane claims that the magistrate was simply incorrect in his determination that the reasons given for Germane's discharge were not pretextual. We disagree with both arguments.

We disagree with Germane's first ground of attack because we disagree with Germane's assertion that the magistrate ignored the discriminatory motives of Germane's fellow employees. The magistrate correctly noted that the ultimate inquiry in a Title VII disparate treatment claim is whether discriminatory intent was a "but for" cause of the adverse action. Germane v. Heckler, No. 81-C-1274, mem. op. at 25-26 (E.D. Wis. July 12, 1985) (citing McCluney v. Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co., 728 F.2d 924, 928 (7th Cir. 1984)). As Germane accurately points out, in making this ultimate determination the magistrate focused in part on the intent of the OHA official who fired Germane.

The decision to fire plaintiff was made by [the head administrative law judge], and it is his motives that must determine ...


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