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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decided a second case July 21st, a reversal

In Orton-Bell v. State of Indiana (SD Ind., Lawrence), a 21-page opinion, Judge Manion writes:

Connie J. Orton-Bell was employed as a substance abuse counselor at a maximum security prison in Indiana. An investigator, who had been looking for security breaches, discovered that night-shift employees were having sex on Orton-Bell’s desk and informed her. That investigator told her that he was not concerned about night-shift staff having sex but suggested she should probably wash off her desk every morning. When the situation was brought to the superintendent’s attention, he agreed and said that, as long as inmates were not involved, he was not concerned either. Immediately thereafter, the superintendent discovered that Orton-Bell was having an affair with the Major in charge of custody (which, ironically enough, allegedly involved sex on his desk) and both were terminated. Both separately appealed their terminations to the State Employees’ Appeals Commission. The prison settled the Major’s appeal and then called him to testify against Orton-Bell at her appeal. This tactic enabled the Major to keep all of his benefits, including his pension, to quickly get unemployment benefits, and to subsequently begin working at the prison as a contractor. Orton-Bell was not afforded similar benefits and opportunities, so she filed this suit alleging Title VII claims of sex discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment. The district court granted summary judgment to the state, concluding that Orton-Bell was not similarly situated to the Major, that she failed to prove retaliation under either the “direct” or “indirect” methods, and that the sexual tenor of the prison’s work environment was not severe or pervasive enough to qualify as hostile. We reverse with regard to Orton-Bell’s discrimination and hostile environment claims, but affirm with regard to her retaliation claims. * * *

Because there is evidence that Orton-Bell was similarly situated to Ditmer, but treated less favorably, it was error to grant summary judgment on her discrimination claim. Further, because her supervisors failed to remedy the severely sexualized climate at the prison, it was likewise error to grant summary judgement on her hostile work environment claim. However, because she has failed to show that her complaint about night-shift employees having sex on her desk was rooted in her protected status, it was not a protected complaint, so her retaliation claim fails. Accordingly, we AFFIRM IN PART and REVERSE IN PART and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 22, 2014 09:55 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions