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Barnes v. Board of Trustees of University of Illinois

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 3, 2020

Gregory L. Barnes, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois and Mark Donovan, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued December 17, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division No. l:16-cv-08278 - Virginia M. Kendall, Judge.

          Before Ripple, Sykes, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.


         Gregory Barnes, who is African American, sued the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois and Mark Donovan, a former university administrator, for racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 after Donovan promoted a white applicant instead of Barnes. Barnes contests the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Because Barnes did not present evidence that Donovan's stated reason for selecting this applicant was a pretext for discrimination, we affirm.

         Barnes works as an engineer in the facilities management department at the University of Illinois Chicago ("UIC"). UIC is divided into a west campus, which contains the hospital and medical buildings, and an east campus, which consists of other university buildings. UIC employs three chief engineers who manage the east campus, the west campus, and utilities, respectively, and who supervise the multiple assistant chief engineers on each campus. The three chief engineers report to the Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services who, at all relevant times, was Mark Donovan. UIC hired Barnes in 2008 as a plant operating engineer and later promoted him to assistant chief engineer on the east campus.

         The operating engineer positions at UIC are classified as civil-service jobs under the State University Civil Service System ("SUCSS"). SUCSS classifies civil-service jobs and sets the minimum qualifications required for a position based on its classification. To be considered for a chief engineer position, applicants must take a civil-service exam and complete an application describing their education, work experience, and job responsibilities. Applicants who meet the minimum qualifications are placed on the civil-service register and, when a chief engineer position opens up, all applicants who received one of the top three scores are asked if they are interested in the position. SUCSS does not dictate the interview process; after it determines the pool of qualified candidates, the head of the department with the opening decides which candidates to interview.

         In late 2015, the chief engineer for the west campus retired, and UIC posted the open job. The UIC human resources department, which maintains the civil-service register, compiled a list of the eleven candidates, including Barnes, who received one of the top-three exam scores and met the minimum qualifications. Of these eleven candidates, two were African American and nine were white, and ten had experience as assistant chief engineers at UIC.

         Donavan was solely responsible for hiring the chief engineer, who would report directly to him. As a result, Donovan felt most comfortable interviewing the candidates alone. Donovan decided to interview all eleven candidates. Before each interview, Donovan reviewed the candidate's application, but he did not look at any personnel files or performance evaluations. After the interviews, Donovan selected Anthony Civito, who is white, as the new chief engineer for the west campus.

         Civito and Barnes both have several decades of education and relevant experience as operating engineers. Civito worked as a senior head engineer for Professional Business Providers at Midway Airport from 2000 until 2011. UIC hired Civito as a plant operating engineer in 2011 and promoted him to an assistant chief the following year. When UIC first promoted Civito, he worked on the east campus. He later informed Donovan that he had an interest in working on the west campus because of the different challenges it posed, and Donovan moved him.

         Barnes was an engineer at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Tower from 1992 to 2005. He began as an apprentice before he was promoted to general maintenance and then, in 1999, to operating engineer. Barnes also worked at Governors State University as a power plant engineer before moving to UIC in 2008. UIC promoted Barnes to an assistant chief engineer on the east campus in 2010.

         Donovan interviewed Barnes for 15 to 30 minutes. Barnes did not bring anything with him to the interview, nor had he been asked to. Barnes recalled that during the interview Donovan asked him to "tell him about myself" as well as "what I would do" and "how I would help the university." Barnes answered that he would implement "systems that help save money for the university" and "dress codes for the engineers." Barnes shared that he would work to get the best prices from vendors and implement a new maintenance program to identify faulty pipes during the summer, rather than waiting until they froze in the winter.

         Donovan interviewed Civito for about 20 minutes. Civito, unprompted, brought written materials to the interview including his civil-service application, his resume, a letter of reference, a narrative work history, a proposal to solve problems with a UIC building, and several trainings he developed to teach engineers about working on different systems. Civito recalls that Donovan asked him questions related to operational processes during the interview and asked how Civito would handle certain scenarios, although he does not remember the specifics.

         After Donovan promoted Civito, Barnes sued, alleging that Donovan failed to promote him because of his race and that the university has a practice or custom of not promoting African Americans to the chief engineer level. Barnes believed that he was more qualified for the position because of his years working at the Sheraton Hotel and the high standard for customer service that he learned there, as well as the different mechanical systems that he had worked on outside the university. Barnes also learned during discovery that in performance reviews filled out by the same supervisor, he had received a higher score than Civito. Both Barnes and Civito received an overall rating of "Meets Expectations" in their October 2014 reviews, but Barnes scored 17/21 to Civito's 15/21. When deciding whom to hire, Donovan did not review or consider performance reviews because he "did not believe that the reviews were a good indicator of performance or readiness to advance to the next level." Instead, Donovan considered only the interviews. He attests that he selected Civito because he came to his interview fully prepared and with extensive materials and, during the interview, ...

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