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Jones v. Jones Brothers Construction Corp.

decided: July 20, 1989.

CHERYL J. JONES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JONES BROTHERS CONSTRUCTION CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 88 C 0975, Brian Barnett Duff, Judge.

Wood, Coffey, and Flaum, Circuit Judges.

Author: Flaum

FLAUM, Circuit Judge

This case illustrates the difficulties that result when an arguably appropriate judgment is entered but is not supported by adequate findings of fact and law as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a). The suit is a gender discrimination case brought under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. The district judge, after a bench trial, awarded judgment in favor of the plaintiff/employee, finding that she had been discharged by her employer because of her sex. On appeal, the employer contends that the district court's finding of discrimination was clearly erroneous. Because of the inadequacy of the findings entered below, however, we are unable to appropriately review the issue, and we therefore remand for further findings.

I.

The undisputed facts are as follows. Cheryl Jones brought suit against her former employer, Jones Brothers Construction Corp., alleging gender discrimination under Title VII and religious discrimination under both Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. After a six-day bench trial, the district court found in favor of plaintiff on the Title VII gender discrimination claim and rejected her religious discrimination claims. Jones Brothers appeals the finding of gender discrimination; the plaintiff does not cross-appeal the adverse ruling on her religious discrimination claims.

Jones Brothers is a construction company which contracted with American Airlines to renovate American's terminal at O'Hare Airport. In June 1985, the general superintendent of Jones Brothers, Robert Sanders, hired plaintiff as a laborer-escort on the O'Hare project. Her laborer duties included breaking out walls with an airhammer, ditch digging, breaking up material with a sledgehammer, operating a jackhammer, manipulating the chute of a concrete truck, and shoveling gravel. Plaintiff's escort duties entailed escorting workers and materials suppliers onto and off of the airport job site; the escorts drove a truck and were armed with a two-way radio and a permit which allowed them to escort vehicular traffic on the airport premises. At the time plaintiff was hired there were four laborer-escorts, all of whom were women.

During Sanders' tenure as general superintendent, which ran until July 1986, plaintiff was never disciplined or reprimanded in any way. She took her daily assignments from Sanders or another foreman. In addition to her laborer and escort duties, Sanders and the foreman routinely sent plaintiff off the airport grounds on work-related errands such as picking up materials and supplies. In June 1986, Sanders assigned plaintiff to supervisor Jerry Rush for her daily assignments.

In July 1986, Jones Brothers fired Sanders and replaced him with Walter Nealey. Shortly thereafter, Nealey hired several new superintendents and foremen, many of whom Nealey knew from his former job at Pepper Construction Company. Among these former co-workers was John Oxford, whom Nealey hired as the laborer foreman.

There is little agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant as to what ensued, and the district court's opinion fails to resolve most of the factual disputes. We will briefly summarize the parties' positions at trial. Jones Brothers contended as follows. Shortly after Oxford was hired, he and Nealey met with all the laborer-escorts and informed them that Oxford was their new supervisor, that they should report to him, that their primary duty was to perform escort work, that they were not to leave the airport premises without permission from Oxford or Nealey, and that they were to carry their radios at all times including breaks. Oxford subsequently informed supervisor Rush of the new rules. Thereafter, certain employees complained that plaintiff arrived for work late and left early, that she was not available by radio, that the other escorts' work was thereby increased, and that plaintiff left the airport premises without permission. Plaintiff was repeatedly reprimanded. Thereafter, the renovation project changed so that four escorts were no longer needed. Because plaintiff was the least competent of the four, she was discharged.

Plaintiff contended as follows. Nealey, an adherent to the Jehovah's Witness faith, believed women were submissive to men and desired to remove women from laborer positions. He (and/or Oxford) hired numerous male laborers, many of whom were also Jehovah's Witnesses, fired three of the six women who had been hired by Sanders, and did not hire or make any effort to hire any women while he was general superintendent despite Jones Brothers' affirmative action goals. During Nealey's tenure, the four women escorts were subjected to derogatory language based on gender both in person and over the truck radio system. The total number of female laborer hours at Jones Brothers dropped while overall laborer hours increased. After Oxford was hired, neither she nor Rush were told of the new rules. She continued to report to Rush, who assigned her to laborer tasks and sent her off the airport grounds on work-related errands. Her performance as both a laborer and an escort was satisfactory, she did not arrive late or leave early, and, with the exception of one incident, she was never reprimanded. The incident occurred one day when Rush had sent her off-grounds to pick up some lumber. Oxford noticed her off-grounds and confronted her, whereupon she informed him that she had never been notified of any policy requiring his or Nealey's permission to leave the grounds but that she would abide by the policy in the future. Plaintiff never again left the grounds through the day of her discharge. No written documentation of any reprimand exists. Neither Nealey or Oxford consulted with Rush or the timekeeper before discharging plaintiff. There had been no slow-down in the terminal renovation work. After her discharge, Oxford assigned male laborers to take over plaintiff's escort duties and added a fifth escort truck.

II.

The district court's opinion makes review difficult because the limited number of specific findings do not sufficiently identify the evidence or credibility determinations upon which they were based and reflect certain inconsistencies. Additionally, the court's conclusions of law are not structured along the lines of the appropriate ...


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