Rare Victory In 'Reverse' Race Discrimination Case Brought Against Springfield, IL
Appeals court reinstates lawsuit by white assistant purchasing agent who was passed over for promotion to the post of City Purchasing Agent in favor of an African-American buyer whom she supervised.
The city of Springfield, IL, must answer charges it violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when Mayor James O. Langfelder promoted a black worker to the position of purchasing agent over her white supervisor.
Diane Runkel, then assistant purchasing agent, sought promotion to the top job when the Purchasing Agent left the position in 2018. She was passed over in favor of a buyer whom she supervised, Kassandra Wilkin, an African-American .
As an apparent consolation prize, Runkel was offered a $5,000 raise. However, after she became upset and complained of race discrimination the promised raise was withdrawn and she was disciplined. Runkel then retired.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Springfield, IL, reinstated Runkel’s lawsuit after it was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Sue E. Myerscough. The panel ruled Runkel had presented “genuine issues of material fact” on her discrimination and retaliation claims.
A key to the decision was that the city told “two incompatible stories” about why Runkel’s assistant was chosen for promotion and Runkel was not.
In one version, Mayor Langfelder said he chose to appoint a black woman for political and/or policy reasons to better reflect the city’s demographics. The outgoing purchasing agent was the only black person among 15 senior city officials who reported directly to the mayor.
In the other version, the City claimed Wilkin, who had a master’s degree, was more qualified and displayed greater professionalism and that Runkel had “misbehaved” after being informed of Wilkin’s promotion.
In its decision, the appeals court panel found it “particularly telling” that Wilkin’s resume was not emailed to Mayor Langfelder until after he had offered her the position. The panel said a jury could conclude “the mayor was more interested in Wilkin’s race than in her (substantial) qualifications.”
The panel said a reasonable jury could find “the City’s claimed justifications for promoting Wilkin “dishonest.”
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