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Lynch v. Belden and Co.

decided: August 16, 1989.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 83-C-1893 -- William E. Steckler, Judge.

Flaum, Ripple, and Kanne, Circuit Judges.

Author: Ripple

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

George Lynch brought this action against his employer, Belden and Company (Belden), under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1981*fn1 alleging that Belden had discriminated against him because of his race by denying him promotions and transfers and by subjecting him to racial harassment. The case was tried before a jury, and, on May 16, 1988, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Belden. Mr. Lynch appeals, contending that the district court improperly instructed the jury. We now affirm.



A. Facts

Mr. Lynch, who is black, has been employed by Belden at its Richmond, Indiana plant since 1968.*fn2 Since 1976, Mr. Lynch has held the position of Electrician in Belden's machine shop. The job classification of Electrician is one of several "skilled trades" positions in the machine shop at Belden's plant. Other skilled trades positions include Electronic Technician, Millwright, Pipefitter, Lathe Operator, Machinist, and Tool and Die Maker.

Mr. Lynch contends that Belden discriminated against him in a number of ways. On December 7, 1981, Mr. Lynch applied for the position of Boiler Room Operator. He maintains that Belden refused to promote him to this position solely because of his race. Similarly, on several occasions between 1973 and 1986, Mr. Lynch sought promotion to the position of Electronic Technician. He maintains that white employees with less experience than he has were placed in the positions for which he applied. Mr. Lynch also alleges that, in 1982 and 1983, he requested transfers from one position with Belden to another. He maintains that, although he was qualified for each of the positions that he sought, his transfer requests were denied solely because of his race. See R.8 at 2 (Plaintiff's Statement of Contentions). Finally, Mr. Lynch contends that he was subjected to racial harassment. He presented testimony that he was given heavy work assignments in hot and dirty worksites more frequently than were white employees, that Evelyn Sellers, a black Electronic Technician apprentice, was instructed not to ask him for assistance when similar instructions were not given to white employees, and that his supervisor followed him closely around the plant. Mr. Lynch maintains that white employees were not treated in a similar fashion.

Belden introduced evidence to rebut each of Mr. Lynch's claims. James Bright, Belden's machine shop and maintenance manager, tested that the Boiler Room Operator position was first offered to a black employee, who declined the job because he had decided that it would interfere with his weekend recreational activities. The job was next offered to, and accepted by, a white employee. Mr. Lynch was ranked second from last on a list of applicants for the job prepared by Belden management. The list rankings were based on the applicants' mechanical or pipefitter knowledge and their absenteeism and tardiness records.

Mr. Bright also testified that Mr. Lynch was unqualified for the position of Electronic Technician. In order to qualify for the position, an applicant was required to have had, among other things, two years' experience as an electronic technician. Mr. Lynch claimed that he had satisfied this requirement since he had repaired radios and televisions in his basement. However, he did not have a license to operate a TV repair business, as required by state law, and he was unable to produce tax records indicating that he had derived any income from operating a repair business in his home. The company also presented testimony that, each time Mr. Lynch applied for an Electronic Technician position, white employees were also rejected as non-qualified and that the applicant selected in each instance met the qualifications listed in the position's job description.

With regard to Mr. Lynch's allegation of racial harassment, Belden presented testimony that every other electrician in Mr. Lynch's department had been assigned to the undesirable jobs complained of by Mr. Lynch. In addition, Mr. Lynch's supervisor denied that he had ever "followed" Mr. Lynch around the plant. Rather, supervisors routinely circulate in the plant and take appropriate disciplinary action when necessary. Finally, Mr. Lynch's supervisor testified that Evelyn Sellers was instructed not to ask Mr. Lynch for assistance because she was being "pushed out of the nest" as part of her apprenticeship program. See Tr. (Defendant's Case-In-Chief) at 155.

B. Issues on Appeal

Mr. Lynch contends that the district court erred in instructing the jury in this case. His arguments are based on two instructions, Instructions No. 11 and No. 12. Instruction No. 11 reads as follows:

For the purposes of this case, 42 U.S.C., Section 1981 entitles a black person to equal opportunity and treatment in employment. Thus, when an employer fails to promote a black person because of that person's race, the law has been ...

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