Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 05-C-3312-Richard Mills, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Manion, Circuit Judge.
Before BAUER, POSNER, and MANION, Circuit Judges.
Alan Jones, then a patrol officer in the Springfield, Illinois, Police Department, was next in line for promotion to sergeant when the City's promotion eligibility list expired. As a result, the City created a new list and Jones was not promoted to sergeant until two years later. Jones, a white man, sued under Title VII, arguing that he was not promoted because of his race. Jones concedes that when the list expired there was no vacancy into which he could have been promoted, but argues that in the past the Department had sometimes made promotions before a vacancy became official. Jones contends that an unofficial vacancy existed when the list expired and that had he been black, the City would have promoted him into that unofficial vacancy. The district court granted summary judgment to the City. Because Jones has failed to present evidence showing either that a vacancy actually existed or that the City chose not to create a vacancy for discriminatory reasons, we affirm.
The Springfield Police Department makes promotions from a promotion eligibility list on which officers are ranked based on their scores on a written and oral exam, length of any military service, and seniority in the Department. A new list is created every two years, but the Civil Service Commission may delay the creation of a new list by one year. The list in question here was scheduled to expire on October 5, 2003, but the Commission voted to extend it by one year. A member of the Com-mission testified in a state court proceeding that the decision was motivated in part by a belief that the extension would increase the chances that a specific black officer would be promoted to sergeant. That black officer, Ralph Harris, was third in line for promotion to sergeant-at the time all sergeants were white males-and might not have ranked as high on a new list. Police Chief Donald Kliment opposed the extension because in the time since the list had been created, more minority and female officers had become eligible for promotion. Kliment believed that a new list, which included those minority and female officers, would better serve the Department's goal of having a more diverse leadership.
Following the Commission's decision to extend the list, no promotions were made until October 1, 2004, four days before the list's expiration. On that day, the top three patrol officers on the sergeant's eligibility list were promoted to spots opened up by other officers' retirements or promotions. Only one of those three, Officer Harris, was black. Jones, who ranked fourth on the list, was not promoted and the list expired. The Commission then used the scores on a new exam to create a new list on which Jones ranked twelfth. Jones was eventually promoted*fn1 to sergeant two years later in December 2006.
Although there was no open position for Jones before the list expired, a position appears to have opened shortly after it expired. That position may have opened when, four days after the list's expiration, Patrick Fogleman was officially promoted from lieutenant to deputy chief. Despite the official date of promotion, there is no dispute that Fogleman began training for his new position and assumed some of its duties before the list expired. In the past, the Department had made at least four promotions before an opening was official, and a decision to make an early promotion to fill Fogleman's lieutenant position would have opened a sergeant slot for Jones. But the Department did not make that decision, and the record contains no evidence explaining how the vacancy created by Fogleman's promotion was filled or whether it was ever filled. The Department has the discretion not to fill a position and had used that discretion a few months earlier to eliminate an open position and redistribute departmental funding.
After the list expired without his being promoted, Jones sued the City under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5, claiming that he was passed over for promotion because of his race. Jones acknowledged that there was no official vacancy, but pointed out that due to Fogleman's impending promotion, the Department knew that there would be a vacancy shortly after the list's expiration and could have given him an early promotion. He argued that the Department would have given him that early promotion if he were black.
After discovery, the City successfully moved for sum-mary judgment. The district court determined that Jones failed to present evidence showing he could succeed in his Title VII claim under either the direct or indirect methods of proof. Jones v. City of Springfield, 540 F. Supp. 2d 1023 (C.D. Ill. 2008). Under the direct method, the court determined that Jones had not presented enough evidence from which a jury could find that his failure to be promoted to sergeant was racially discriminatory; there was evidence of four early promotions in the past, but three of the four promoted officers were white and only one was black. Id. at 1031. Further, the court found that Jones had not identified a similarly situated black officer who was treated more favorably. Id. at 1031-32. Jones and Harris ranked next to each other on the list, but, the court explained, they were not similarly situated because there was only one vacant sergeant position to be filled. Id. at 1032. Under the indirect method, the court found the City's explanation for not promoting Jones-that there was no open position into which to promote him-was legitimate and nondiscrimina-tory; that is, it was not a pretext for discrimination. Id. at 1034-36.
On appeal Jones renews his argument that he presented enough evidence to reach a jury under the direct and indirect methods of proving a Title VII violation. See generally Atanus v. Perry, 520 F.3d 662, 671-73 (7th Cir. 2008). We review the grant of summary judgment de novo, taking all facts in the light most favorable to Jones, the nonmoving party. See, e.g., AutoZone, Inc. v. Strick, 543 F.3d 923, 929 (7th Cir. 2008).
Under the direct method of proof, a plaintiff survives summary judgment by showing sufficient evidence, whether it is labeled direct or circumstantial, on which a jury could find that the adverse employment action in question was taken for a discriminatory reason. Atanus, 520 F.3d at 671. One type of circumstantial evidence that can demonstrate intentional discrimination is evidence that "employees similarly situated to the plaintiff other than in the characteristic (pregnancy, sex, race, or whatever) on which an employer is forbidden to base a difference in treatment received systematically better treatment." Rudin v. Lincoln Land Community College,420 F.3d 712, 721 (7th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation omitted). Jones believes that the facts surrounding Harris's promotion reflect such systematically better treatment. But as the district court explained, Jones, 540 F. Supp. 2d at 1031-32, Jones and Harris may have had similarities, but they were not similarly situated for the simple reason that Harris was ranked ahead of Jones on the eligibility list. See Raymond v. Ameritech Corp., 442 F.3d 600, 611 (7th Cir. 2006). Jones points to evidence suggesting that race played a role in Harris's promotion: the extension of the eligibility list for one year, the pressure exerted on the Commission by aldermen and representatives of Springfield's black community who wanted a more diverse police force, and statements that Jones says the mayor made to him about his desire to promote Harris because of his race. The City unconvincingly denies that race influenced Harris's promotion, but the motivation behind Harris's promotion is only a secondary question. The primary question is whether Jones can show an improper reason for the City not promoting him.
To show that he was passed over for a promotion based on an improper and discriminatory reason, Jones argues that he presented sufficient evidence for a jury to find that had he been black, the City would have promoted him before the list's expiration. It is safe to assume that Jones's evidence could convince a jury that the City made certain discretionary moves in order to promote Harris at least partly on account of race. The problem is the next*fn2 step. Jones believes that there is also enough evidence for a jury to find that the City would have made a different discretionary move-promoting him before a vacancy officially existed-if he were black. But the evidence simply does not support that. As the district court noted, only one of the four known prior instances of early promotions involved a black officer. More importantly, though, the record reveals nothing about the circumstances surrounding any of those early promotions. Jones complains that the City has not explained why it did not give him an early promotion, but that gets the burden backward. Under the direct method, the plaintiff has the burden of proving discrimination. All Jones can prove is that the practice of early ...