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‘Reverse discrimination,’ retaliation charges reinstated


A federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling and reinstated discrimination and retaliation charges filed by a white assistant purchasing agent for an Illinois city who was overlooked for a promotion, in a “reverse discrimination” case.

Diane Runkel was working as an assistant purchasing agent for Springfield, Illinois, in 2018 when the purchasing agent announced he was planning to leave the position, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in Diane Runkel v. City of Springfield and James O. Langfelder.

Ms. Runkel, who is white, asked to be considered for this promotion, but later learned the city instead had promoted a Black candidate, Kassandra Wilkin, who had been working under Ms. Runkel’s supervision.

When Ms. Runkel was told she had not received the promotion but would be given a $5,000 per year raise in salary, she became upset, told an official she believed the hiring was discriminatory, and caused a disturbance in the office, the ruling said.

She later filed a race discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After telling the city she planned to file the charge, she was disciplined, and the promised raise revoked. She retired soon after.

Ms. Runkel filed suit in U.S. District Court in Springfield, charging race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court dismissed the case.

It was overturned by a two-judge appeals court panel, which reinstated both charges. Ms. Runkel has proffered evidence the city may have discriminated against her as a white person, the ruling said. 

The mayor, Mr. Langfelder, has cited his hiring of Ms. Wilkin as an example of how his administration was “moving toward reflecting the city demographics,” and there is evidence he did not see Ms. Wilkins’ resume until after he had already offered her the position, it said.

The decision said Ms. Runkel has also offered evidence that she was qualified to serve as the purchasing agent, was rejected for the position, and that the city had chosen to promote someone of a different race who was at least similarly qualified.

The ruling said the city cited Ms. Runkel’s alleged misbehavior after learning of Ms. Wikins’ appointment as a reason for its actions, which is “on its face an after-the-fact rationalization” of its hiring decision.

Plaintiff attorney James P. Baker, with Baker Baker + Krajewski in Springfield, said in a statement, “We are very pleased with the Seventh Circuit’s holding. This case reaffirms the important principle that race should not play a role in determining who should be hired for a position."

A city attorney did not respond to a request for comment.