7th Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment on Race Discrimination Claim

On August 8, 2017, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of summary judgment in a Title VII race discrimination lawsuit filed by an African-American police officer.  McKinney v. Office of the Sheriff of Whitley County, No. 16-4131 (7th Cir. 8/8/2017).  The plaintiff was the first black police officer ever in Whitley County, Indiana.  He was fired nine months after he was hired.  He sued for race discrimination.  The 7th Circuit stated that his evidence supports a strong case of race discrimination.  The expanding and shifting nature of the defendant's proffered reasons for the termination of the plaintiff's employment were the kiss of death for the defendant in this employment discrimination lawsuit.

The Sheriff's termination letter provided three reasons for the plaintiff's termination.  Four days later, the Board of Commissioners sent the plaintiff another letter that added two more reasons.  After he filed his federal lawsuit, the defense added yet three more reasons.  The plaintiff presented evidence to the district court that he was treated differently and less favorably than similarly situated non-black police officers.  He also presented evidence that the proffered reasons for the termination of his employment were pretext for unlawful intentional discrimination.  The district court erred by disregarding most of his evidence in favor of the Sheriff's affidavit.  Direct evidence of discrimination included racial comments, social exclusion at work, and failure to provide training.  He also submitted detailed evidence which belied the defendant's purported explanation for firing him.  The 7th Circuit stated that, "[t]he most striking features of this lawsuit are the sheer number of rationales the defense has offered for firing plaintiff and the quality and volume of evidence plaintiff has collected to undermine the accuracy and even the honesty of those rationales."