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IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
MORRIS HOLMES and
THE ORLEANS PARISH SCHOOL BOARD,
DR. J. BERENGER BRECHTEL;
GAIL MOORE GLAPION;
CAROLYN GREEN FORD and
CHERYL Q.W. CRAMER
Appeals from the United States District Court
for the Eastern District of Louisiana
December 8, 1998
Before REYNALDO G. GARZA, DUHÉ, and STEWART, Circuit Judges.
CARL E. STEWART, Circuit Judge:
Catherine Baltazor prevailed in a jury trial against her employer, the Orleans Parish School
Board and its superintendent, Dr. Morris Holmes, on her claims of race and sex discrimination in
violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. §§1981 and 1983. Our review
of the record leads us to conclude that as a matter of law Baltazor did not prove any violations of
Title VII by a preponderance of the evidence. Similarly, the record fails to support a cognizable
violation of 42 U.S.C. §§1981 and 1983. Therefore, we find that the lower court should have entered
judgment against Baltazor.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
This action was filed by Catherine Ann Baltazor, a white female who served as a clerical
employee of the Orleans Parish School Board ("School Board") for 18 years until her resignation on
May 3, 1996. Baltazor was sixty-one years old at the time of her resignation. Asserting causes of
action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. §§1981 and 1983, Baltazor
alleged that she was the victim of "reverse" racial discrimination as well as gender discrimination.
Baltazor began her employment with the School Board in July 1977 as a clerk at a grade 4
pay level. Baltazor's employment continued and she progressed and was assigned as Secretary I in
the Child Nutrition Department until 1991, when she was transferred to a position in the Employee
Relations Department. Baltazor claims that upon her transfer in 1991, she was assigned the duties,
but not awarded the title of the former Office Services Manager, Allen Webre. Webre, a white male,
had recently retired from that position. Following her transfer in 1991, Baltazor continued to earn
$20,500 per year and was classified at a grade 6 secretarial pay level. Baltazor alleges that prior to
his retirement, Webre was earning $1486 bi-weekly at a grade 14 salary level in the office services
manager position in 1990.1 Baltazor maintains that following her "assumption" of the position, she
1It is important to note that Baltazor was classified as a grade 6 on the clerical grade scale and
that Webre was classified as a grade 14 on the administrative and professional services scale.
There is no direct correlation between the two scales. Clerical positions involve less responsibility
and thus are classified on a different track as the administrative positions.
was kept at her secretarial pay and grade classification despite repeated requests for an increase in
Holmes and the School Board argue that Baltazor was never given the position or all of the
duties of office manager as she claims, but instead was transferred from the Child Nutrition
Department to Employee Relations. They maintain that the decision to keep Baltazor classified as
Secretary I at a grade 6 salary level was not uncommon. Holmes and the School Board explain that
the move to Employee Relations was precipitated by Baltazor's October 1991 request for a transfer
out of the Child Nutrition Department. At that time, Baltazor claimed that the black female assistant
director for that department, Ms. Jackson, was "prejudiced" against her. Dr. Frank Fudesco, a white
male associate superintendent who was head of several administrative units, promptly responded to
Baltazor's complaints and transferred her to his department following her request. According to
Baltazor, she served under Fudesco performing office manager-type job functions that included
greater responsibility than was previously accorded to her at the Secretary I level. Baltazor claims
that she persistently complained to Fudesco that: (1) unequal treatment was being inflicted upon her;
(2) she was not being compensated for her position and duties; and (3) such failure was in violation
of School Board policies.
Although Fudesco transferred Baltazor to his department and accorded her greater
responsibilities, he did not take any action on Baltazor's request for a salary increase until his
departure in July 1994. Ensuring that he would not be responsible for any action taken based on his
suggestion, Fudesco mentioned toward the end of his June 10, 1994 exit memorandum that Baltazor
had assumed a busy management position and recommended that she be reclassified to office
manager. By this time, Dr. Morris Holmes, a black male, had become Superintendent of the School
Board. Fudesco's exit memorandum presented the first occasion for Holmes to become aware of her
Baltazor renewed and redirected her complaints to Fudesco's successor, Associate
Superintendent, James Henderson, a black male. On March 10, 1995, Baltazor sent her direct
supervisor, Henderson, what Holmes and the School Board allege was her first written request to be
reclassified as office manager and to be raised from a grade 6 classification to a grade 12. She also
requested that the raise be made retroactive to October of 1991. In effect, the increase would cover
a 44-month period. Unlike Fudesco, Henderson took immediate action and attempted to have
Baltazor's position reclassified to a higher grade level. On March 13, 1995, Henderson sent a
response and recommendation to Holmes endorsing, in part, Baltazor's request. Specifically,
Henderso n requested a reclassifaction from grade 6 to grade 10. Baltazor criticizes Henderson's
recommendation because the proposed increase in grade level and salary was not commensurate with
Webre's status or remuneration.2
Holmes forwarded the matter for consideration and further recommendation to the School
Board's Director of Personnel, Ella Voelkel.3 Voelkel is a white female who has served as the
School Board's Director of Personnel since 1987.4 Voelkel disagreed with Henderson's
2 In a subsequent memorandum, Henderson retracted this recommendation.
3Voelkel's trial testimony reveals that Holmes asked her to analyze Henderson's memo and to
provide Holmes with her own recommendation. Voelkel's response memo to Holmes is dated April
4Holmes testified to the fact that he requested a recommendation from Voelkel and additional
input from Voelkel and Henderson, in part, to refresh his memory of Baltazor and to be brought up
to date on her situation. Holmes testified that once his memory of Baltazor was refreshed, he recalled
having had some contact with her in the eleven months as superintendent. In their brief, Holmes and
the School Board suggest that Holmes also sought counsel because of the magnitude of the requested
recommendation to Holmes, and in her memo to Holmes set forth her determinations that: (1)
Baltazor had not been transferred to the position of office manager; (2) the previous office manager's
duties had been reduced before his retirement; (3) if the office manager position were to be
reestablished at a new salary level it would have to be "posted" for applications under the School
Board's procedures; and (4) even if an office manager-type position were reestablished, the
classification levels sought by Baltazor and recommended by Henderson were both excessive.5
Holmes received Henderson's retraction and reasons following receipt of Voelkel's recommendation.6
Relying on these two documents, Holmes denied the grade increase and reclassification.
Baltazor filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on
May 18, 1995. Approximately four months after she filed her claim, Baltazor testified that she
Q. At the time that you received the memorandum, what did you do with it?
A. When I received the memorandum, and as I recall, I discussed this issue with Dr. Lloyd, my
executive assistant, and Mrs. Voelkel, and it was saying to me that there was no rationale and
there was no system to make this move. So, at this point in time, then this recommendation was
acceptable to me, that I had no reason to believe that the Personnel Department had not looked
at all of the issues, because any time that I asked my staff to do something of this nature, it means
to do an analysis, to do all of the extraneous issues, take a look at the policies, take a look at the
statutes and practices, and advise.
Q. Did you rely on this memorandum in coming to your final decision concerning this lady's request?
A. Yes, I did.
6Specifically, Henderson withdrew his recommendation stating,
The duties of the previous Office Manager far exceeded [Baltazor's] current assignment with the
following supervisory responsibilities: Telephone Services, Mail Room, Duplications Services,
Pool Typists, Maintenance (Janitorial) Services, Office Supplies for all Administrative
Departments[.] Subsequently, the above responsibilities, with the exception of telephone and mail
room activities, were disseminated to other departments.
Defendant's Exhibit 2.
received "a carefully construed memo" in which Henderson notified her that he had changed his mind
on his decision to support, in part, her request for a reclassification. She resigned her position on
May 3, 1996. Her position was not filled following her resignation. On July 18, 1996, the EEOC
provided Baltazor with a right to sue letter under Title VII, prior to the completion of the School
Board's investigation of her claim.
Baltazor filed this suit on January 16, 1996. She asserted separate causes of action under both
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983.
Named as defendants were both the School Board and Holmes, as superintendent of the school
system. Holmes and the School Board timely moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a) at the close of Baltazor's case before the jury. The judge deferred his ruling and
the jury awarded Baltazor compensatory damages in the amount of $200,000 against the School
Board and punitive damages in the amount of $125,000 against Superintendent Holmes. The court
entered judgment accordingly. Holmes and the School Board filed a renewed motion for judgment
as a matter of law under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). The court again deferred its ruling, but eventually
denied both Rule 50 motions and set forth its reasons in a minute entry dated March 24, 1997.
Holmes and the School Board timely appeal the jury verdict in Baltazor's favor and the denial of their
Rule 50 motions.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
We accord great deference to the jury's verdict when evaluating the sufficiency of the
evidence. Under this standard, we view all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict
and reverse only if the evidence points "so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of one party that the
court beleives that reasonable [jurors] could not arrive at any contrary conclusion." Boeing v.
Shipman, 411 F.2d 365, 374 (5th cir. 1969)(en banc).
We review de novo the lower court 's ruling on a motion for judgment as a matter of law
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). Omnitech Int'l, Inc. v. Clorox Co., 11 F.3d 1316, 1322-23 (5th Cir.), cert.
denied, 513 U.S. 815, 115 S.Ct. 71, 130 L.Ed.2d 26 (1994). Again, we view all evidence and
reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. If reasonable persons could differ in their
interpretation of the evidence, the motion should be denied. Only when the facts and the reasonable
inferences are such that a reasonable juror could not reach a contrary verdict may the district court
properly grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law. Texas Farm Bureau v. United States, 53
F.3d 120, 123 (5th Cir. 1995).
In McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973),
the Supreme Court held that a complainant, like Baltazor, in a Title VII trial carries the initial burden
of establishing a prima facie case of racial discrimination. Id. at 802, 93 S.Ct. at 1824; see also,
Wallace v. Texas Tech Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996)("To succeed on a claim of
intentional discrimination under Title VII, Section 1983, or Section 1981, a plaintiff must first prove
a prima facie case of discrimination.") However, as this court held in Harrington v. Harris, 118 F.3d
359 (5th Cir. 1997), the elements of a prima facie case can be inapposite:
[W]hen a case has been tried on the merits, a reviewing appellate court need not address the
sufficiency of plaintiff's prima facie case, and may instead proceed directly to the ultimate
questions of whether plaintiff has produced sufficient evidence for a jury to find that
discrimination occurred. In other words, the focus then shifts to the ultimate question of
whether the defendant intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff.
Id. at 367 (internal quotations and citations omitted).
We conduct a traditional sufficiency of the evidence analysis to determine whether reasonable
jurors could find discriminatory treatment. Travis v. Board of Regents of the University of Texas,
122 F.3d 259, 263 (5th Cir. 1997). We are mindful that a Title VII plaintiff must prove that the
employer's purported reasons for taking an adverse employment action are pretextual and that the
employer engaged in illegal discrimination. Boeing, 411 F.2d at 374. Thus, in order to prove race
or gender based discrimination, the complainant must present evidence that gender or race were
determinative in the employment decision. However, subtle distinctions exist between an inference
of pretext and proof of actual discrimination. Given these distinctions, we have concluded that "it
is possible for a plaintiff's evidence to permit a tenuous inference of pretext and, by extension,
discrimination, and yet for the evidence to be insufficient as a matter of law to support a finding of
discrimination." Travis, 122 F.3d at 263 (citing Walton v. Bisco Industries, 119 F.3d 368, 372 (5th
Our analysis of the issues in this case requires us to evaluate first Baltazor's claim that she was
denied a reclassification and increase in salary based on her race or gender. Next we consider
whether Baltazor's Sections 1981 and 1983 claims should have gone to the jury. Third, we turn our
attention to the award of compensatory damages. Our discussion ends with an assessment of the
Title VII case against the Superintendent, Dr. Morris Holmes.
This case centers on whether the School Board should have increased Baltazor's
compensation since she assumed responsibilities beyond her job description; yet, it is masquerading
as a Title VII case. Given the legitimate controversy over proper compensation and application of
the procedures of reclassifying Baltazor's position, the jury could have reasonably concluded that
Baltazor was underpaid and overworked. The central question, however, is not whether appellants
should have paid Baltazor more money but whether the evidence can support a finding that the real
reason for the School Board's decision not to raise her compensation bespeaks race or gender
discrimination. Our review of the record leads us to conclude that there is no evidence which could
lead a reasonable juror to conclude that the appellants discriminated against Baltazor on the basis of
either her race or gender.7
The trial court declined to grant appellants motion for judgment as a matter of law because
it determined that "the jury heard credible evidence of the job responsibilities competently assumed
by plaintiff, the position perceived by others, her request for reclassification, the racial hostility extant
within the school administration and the school board's proffered reasons for refusing to take action
on the matter." Baltazor v. Holmes, Civil Action No.: 96-150, Section "K" (Minute Entry March 24,
1997). Record 288-89. Baltazor echoes these same conclusions in her pleadings before this court.
These reasons are unpersuasive.
First, the job responsibilities "competently" assumed by Baltazor are not the same
responsibilities required of Webre. Baltazor failed to prove that she was in a position or performing
duties equal to Webre's. Voelkel's trial testimony demonstrates that Webre's salary and grade levels
were increased and his position upgraded several times during his tenure at the School Board. Such
upgrades were due, in part, to Webre's assumption of new duties and responsibilities. One of
Webre's most significant duties-supervision of the Print Shop-was assigned to him in 1982. At that
7Neither the jury instructions nor the verdict form offers a distinction between a finding of race
discrimination or gender discrimination. Consequently, the jury's verdict is ambiguous on the issue
of whether it found race discrimination, gender discrimination or both. Without such a distinction,
our course is made more difficult.
time, Webre was raised from a grade 12 to a grade 14. Voelkel testified that prior to Webre's
retirement in 1990, many of Webre's most significant job duties and responsibilities had been phased
out or reassigned to other employees.8 Consequently, Baltazor could not have assumed responsibility
for all of the same responsibilities that Webre performed. Accordingly, the School Board was correct
to decline compensation on the same level as Webre.9
While others may have perceived that Baltazor assumed the position of Office Manager, there
is no doubt that her immediate supervisor, Fudesco, and the supervisor of personnel understood that
she was not the Office Manager. Dr. Fudesco conceded as much in his exit memorandum imploring
the School Board to re-establish the position. The position had been abolished and its responsibilities
reassigned to others. Similarly, Voelkel repeatedly testified that she did not believe that Baltazor was
performing the same duties as Webre. No employer can discriminate for failing to fill a position
which no longer exists unless the employer eliminated the position as a means of discrimination. See
e.g., Mills v. Intern. Broth. of Teamsters, et al., 634 F.2d 282 (5th cir. 1981)(position must be
available). Despite how others perceived Baltazor's duties, the responsibilities inherent to the
position were assigned to others and the position eliminated upon Webre's retirement. Baltazor did
8Specifically, Voelkel's testimony indicates that Webre's management of the Print Shop was
reassigned to another employee, Ms. Johnson, in 1984; his management of the Mail Room went to
Dr. Fudesco's department and was reassigned to Baltazor, among others; and that Webre's duty of
ordering supplies was decentralized following his retirement so that each department handled its own
supply needs. Additionally, Voelkel testified that Baltazor did, in fact, assume certain tasks that had
formerly been done by Webre including telephone services.
9The previous existence of the Office Manager position does not mandate its continued existence,
especially when the costs of maintaining such a position outweighs the benefit of having multiple
employees assume the responsibilities.
not contend nor does the record support any indication that the position was eliminated as a means
of precluding Baltazor's advancement.
Baltazor's requests for reclassification did not comply with board policy and there is no
indication that race or gender discrimination formed the basis of the School Board's decision to deny
the request. The record indicates that Baltazor's request for reclassification did not follow School
Board procedures. Voelkel testified that there are two ways in which a position within the School
Board is reclassified. First, the Superintendent may authorize an "all-call" request for reclassifications
from all department heads. Those department heads may recommend positions within their
departments for reclassification. Then, a committee is formed t o review these requests and make
recommendations to the superintendent. The superintendent then approves or disapproves the
recommendations. For any recommendations approved, the superintendent then makes a
recommendation to the School Board.
Second, a department head seeks authorization from the superintendent for a position
reclassification. If the authorization is obtained, the budget committee must then approve the
reclassification and the position is then announced for general applications. Voelkel testified that
there is no reclassification procedure by which an individual can challenge her own salary in the
manner that Baltazor attempted. Voelkel's recommendation against Baltazor's reclassification was,
in part, motivated by these procedures and her belief that neither Baltazor or other employees be
reclassified outside of a comprehensive scheme. In addition, Voelkel testified that African American
employees had been denied reclassification during Dr. Holmes's tenure as superintendent.
Again, it is important to note that neither race nor gender played a role in this determination.
Dr. Fudesco, a white male, failed to make the recommendation during his tenure as Baltazor's
supervisor. Instead he offered unsubstantiated assurances that Baltazor would be reclassified. On the
other hand, his successor, Henderson, a black male made an immediate effort to secure a
reclassification although below the level Baltazor requested. The exit memorandum and Henderson's
requests were reviewed by Voelkel, a white woman, who offered sound reasons for her
recommendation that the superintendent decline the reclassification. Holmes adopted the
recommendation of his personnel specialist. Based on these facts, no reasonable juror could conclude
that the reason for the denial was related to race or gender.
Baltazor's attempts to obscure the weakness of her case by emphasizing that the adverse
personnel decision she complains of occurred in a climate of racial hostility. However, nothing in the
record connects "the racial hostility in the school administration" to Baltazor's claim of racial
discrimination. Baltazor endeavored to prove by direct and circumstantial testimony that she was
subject to racial animus on the part of the school board. Baltazor asserts that the School Board's
constant refrain "positions are reclassified, not people" is evidence of pretext for its underlying
discriminatory animus. The record is wholly devoid of any indication that the policy for reclassifying
positions operates to the detriment of whites or women. Persons from different races and genders
were treated the same under the policy as articulated by Voelkel.
Despite objections by Holmes and the School Board, Baltazor presented two former School
Board employees, Boyd and Ducote, as witnesses who testified that Holmes downgraded their
positions and negatively affected their salaries because they are white. Baltazor's employment was
completely unrelated to either of these two persons. Boyd initially performed the duties of Director
of Security and was later reassigned to Director of Investigations. The School Board employed
Ducote as the Director of Facility Planning. He also assumed Associate Superintendent
Responsibilities. The record is improperly infected with their accounts of racial hostility and like a
contagious disease it was spread to include Baltazor.10
However these accounts may portray similarities in the manner Holmes treated Boyd and
Ducote, they do not prove any relationship between the perceived animus and the decision not to
reclassify Baltazor. The probative value of their testimony is highly questionable. Indeed, the record
is devoid of any direct contact between Baltazor and Holmes regarding her request for a promotion.
Instead, it shows that she dealt only with Fudesco and Henderson. The absence of either a direct or
credible circumstantial nexus between Holmes and Baltazor precludes any finding of discriminatory
intent. Neither the general environment at the School Board, no r the specific conduct of Holmes
regarding other employees support the inference that the denial of Baltazor's request for a pay
increase was due to her race or gender.
Finally, the proffered reasons for declining the reclassification were wholly consistent with
School Board practice and policy. In summary, Baltazor's assumed duties did not merit the desired
reclassification given fundamental changes in the position prior to Webre's departure. In fact, the
office manager position no longer existed. Voelkel who acted upon the request for reclassification
followed the policy and procedure for reclassification. Nothing in that policy advances race or gender
discrimination in the work place. Even if the School Board chose to reactivate the position, the
record indicates that Baltazor was not academically qualified to fill the grade 12 position.
10We express no opinion on the merits of any action pending between these parties, the School
Board, and Dr. Holmes.
While the jury may have believed that Baltazor should have received greater compensation
for the work she performed, the evidence does not support a finding that she was discriminated
against on the basis of her race or gender.
We turn next to the sufficiency of the evidence regarding Baltazor's §§ 1981 and 1983 claims
against both Superintendent Holmes and the School Board. Once again, we must review the ultimate
question whether Baltazor produced sufficient evidence for a jury to find that discrimination occurred.
Walther v. Lone Star Gas Co., 952 F.2d 119, 122 (5th Cir. 1992). This determination is made with
an appreciation for the elements of a prima facie case. With regard to claims of discrimination in
violation os § 1981 discrimination, we review the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether
it supports a finding that the defendant discriminated against the plaintiff. See, LaPierre v. Benson
Nissan, Inc., 86 F.3d 444, 448 n. 2 (5th Cir. 1996). Under §1981a, punitive damages may be
awarded against an employer proved to have, "engaged in discriminatory practice or discriminatory
practices with malice or reckless disregard to the federally protected rights of an aggrieved
individual." 42 U.S.C. §1981a(b)(1).
In the § 1983 liability, we review the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether it
supports a verdict finding that a municipality or local government entity acted pursuant to an official
municipal policy that caused a constitutional tort. See, Monell v. Dep't. of Social Services of the City
of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2036, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978)(articulating the
elements of a prima facie Section 1983 claim). The Monell Court was explicit in its holding that
§1983 "cannot be easily read to impose liability vicariously on governing bodies solely on the basis
of the existence of an employer-employee relationship with a tortfeasor." Id. at 692, 98 S.Ct. at
Monell held that policy may be made by a local governments' lawmakers or by those whose
edicts or acts may be fairly said to represent official policy. Id. at 694. Baltazor bases her sections
1981 and 1983 claim against the School Board on the actions of Holmes. We are aware that it is rare
for a plaintiff to be in a position to provide direct evidence of discriminatory intent. LaPierre, 86 F.3d
at 449. Thus, a plaintiff will be allowed to prove intentional discrimination through circumstantial
evidence and, specifically, evidence that the defendant's articulated nondiscriminatory rationale was
pretextual. Harrington v. Harris, 108 F.3d 598, 606 (5th Cir. 1997) (citing McDonnell Douglas
Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 803-05, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1825, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973); Texas Dept.
Of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 251-53, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1093, 67 L.Ed.2d 207
Nevertheless, Baltazor did not produce sufficient proof to support her §§ 1981 and 1983
claims. The record does not support a finding that Holmes acted with malice or reckless disregard
of her federal rights to entitle her to the punitive damages awarded by the jury. Again, we underscore
the fact that Baltazor offers no proof of direct contact between herself and Holmes, or of any indirect
statements or actions against her by Holmes. Even she acknowledged that the perceived race and
gender discrimination problems existed before Holmes became the superintendent.11 Holmes received
the request for a reclassification some eleven months after he became the superintendent and referred
11 A subjective belief alone is insufficient to create a jury question. Travis, 122 F.3d at 266 (citing
Armendariz v. Pinkerton, 58 F,3d 144, 153 (5th Cir. 1995), cert. denied, --- U.S. ---, 116 S.Ct. 709,
133 L.Ed.2d 664 (1996)).
the matter to Voelkel who advised him that there was no basis for the action. Nothing in the record
diminishes the validity of the Voelkel's recommendation and by extension, Holmes' decision to act
on that recommendation.
Moreover, we are hard-pressed to find that Holmes articulated nondiscriminatory rationale
was pretextual even when considering the circumstantial evidence presented in this case. The record
indicates that Baltazor, in fact, did not hold the same qualifications as those who were earning the
grade 12 salary. Neither in her brief, nor at oral argument did her attorneys demonstrate that she had
satisfactory qualifications for the job. We likewise reject the circumstantial evidence based on the
testimony of Boyd and Ducote because of the absence of any nexus between the nature of their
contact with Holmes and the decision not to act on Baltazor's request.
In support of her § 1983 claim, Baltazor notes that the Supreme Court as well as the Fifth
Circuit have held that liability may be found against a local government entity for its "official
policies"--which are not limited to statements, ordinances, regulations, or decisions that are officially
adopted by a designated po licy-making authority, but can also include persistent or widespread
practices which are so common as to constitute a local custom." Webster v. Houston, 735 F.2d 838
(5th Cir. 1984) (en banc). Even the Monell Court recognized that a practice may be so persistent that
it constitutes a custom even though it has not been formally approved by the body's official decision
makers. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691.
We find that Baltazor's emphasis on Monell merely underscores the insufficiency of the
evidence she brought. Though Baltazor, through her witnesses Boyd and Ducote, put forth evidence
that racially insensitive remarks were made by Holmes to other School Board employees, she did not
meet her burden of proving that such remarks or attitudes had so pervaded the workplace as to make
them a "custom" for purposes of § 1983 litigation. Our review of the record indicates that only Boyd
and Ducote testified to the general discriminatory environment at the School Board. While some of
Baltazor's other witnesses may have testified to the fact that Baltazor was performing at a higher
level than she was being recognized or that she deserved a promotion, they did not testify to a pattern
or policy of the School Board to which Holmes' treatment of Baltazor can be attributed.
Having determined that the evidence was not sufficient to support the jury's verdict on the
merits of the case, we need not address the issue of whet her the award of punitive damages were
excessive. We render a take-nothing judgment in favor of the appellants.
Similarly, we find no reason to address the issue of whether the Title VII claim proceeded
against Holmes in his perso nal capacity. Again, the evidence simply does not support the jury's
verdict in any respect.
The trial court's judgment based on the jury verdict is REVERSED, and a take-nothing
judgment is RENDERED in favor of Holmes and the School Board.
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