Las Vegas POA

Firefighter Loses Discrimination Verdict On Appeal

Written on 03/03/2021
Will Aitchison

In 1987, the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department hired Faye Davis, an African American female, as a firefighter. Beginning in 2007, Davis took the promotional exam to become a Chief Fire Officer (CFO) four years in a row but was not promoted. Davis sued, claiming she was the victim of race and gender discrimination.

The parties’ primary disagreement was the number of actual vacancies during the 2009-2010 promotional cycle. The fire chief testified that the County and the Union entered into an agreement for the County to pay existing CFOs 30 minutes overtime per shift in exchange for the Union’s agreement to reduce the Department’s required number of CFOs to 77. There were 81 employees in the CFO position at the start of the 2009-2010 cycle, and four retirements and promotions over the course of that year. That left 77 employees in the CFO position at the end of the 2009-2010 promotional period. Thus, accepting that the agreement testified to by the chief existed, no vacancy would have existed to permit Davis to be promoted.

A jury returned a verdict in the County’s favor finding that the County did not deny Davis a promotion from the 2009-2010 or 2010-2011 lists. The trial judge disagreed and directed a verdict in favor of Davis on the issue of the County’s liability. The County then appealed.

The Florida Court of Appeals reinstated the jury’s verdict. The Court noted that “there is no dispute that Davis, an African American woman, qualified for a promotion, passed the required test, and was included on the eligibility lists for promotion to CFO. Instead, the case came down to whether, despite being qualified, Davis was rejected from a job for which the Employer was seeking applicants. In other words, was there an actual vacancy in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 available to be filled by Davis?

“By its verdict, the jury answered this question ‘no.’ In order to set aside the jury’s verdict and to direct a verdict in Davis’s favor, the trial court would have had to conclude that there was no evidence at trial, nor any reasonable inferences from the evidence, to support the County’s position that it was not actively seeking applications because (due to overages) there was no vacancy in the CFO position.

“To be sure, there was conflicting testimony and other evidence presented on the issue of whether there was an actual vacancy. But the jury resolved those conflicts in the evidence and, in doing so, returned a verdict in favor of the County. A review of the record establishes there was evidence to support that verdict, e.g., the fire chief’s testimony that the County entered an agreement with the Union to better compensate current CFOs if the required number of CFOs for 2009-2010 was reduced by two, from 79 to 77, and that this agreement was the reason that Davis was not promoted.

“Given the evidence presented and viewing it in a light most favorable to the County, the jury certainly could have reasonably reached the determinations reflected by its verdict and concluded that Davis did not establish her prima facie case. Since Davis did not meet her burden to prove a prima facie case, the County did not need to rebut any presumption through its asserted defenses. The trial court erred in disregarding the jury’s verdict and instead directing a verdict in Davis’s favor.”

Miami-Dade County v. Davis, 2020 WL 5648244 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2020).

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