A ruling by the D.C. Commission on Human Rights that Newsweek magazine was "guilty of racial discrimination" in firing Samuel F. Yette, a black, from its Washington bureau was reversed yesterday by the D.C. Court of Appeals.
The court also threw out a commission order that Newsweek pay Yette $1,000 in damages and $20,000 in attorneys' fees, and dismissed a further order that the magazine set up an "affirmative action program" to hire and promote blacks and make regular reports on the programs to the city's Office of Human Rights.
"We hold that the Commission's findings of fact in this case were incomplete and more importantly that they were not supported by substantial evidence," the court said in a 30-page opinion written by Associate Judge J. Walter Yeagley. Associate Judges Austin L. Fickling and George R. Gallagher concurred. Fickling has died since participating in the case.
"Consequently," the opinion continued, "we must hold that the Commission's ruling in this regard was arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with the law."
The court said the Commission based its ruling on Yette's feeling that he was fired for racial reasons without finding any facts to support this feeling. Moreover, it said, the commission failed to consider evidence, "some of it uncontradicted," from Newsweek that Yette had been fired because his work was unsatisfactory.
"Confronted with this deficiency we might remand the case to the commission with an order to supply adequate findings of fact . . . In this instance, however, that would be a futile exercise," the court said.
The opinion reviewed the development of the law on racial discrimination and said that Yette's complaint failed to meet the requirements of any of the past or present standards for discrimination.
Yette, now a professor of journalism at Howard University, could not be reached for commet.
Yesterday's decision could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorneys for the city declined to comment on whether an appeal would be taken until they had read the Court of Appeals ruling.