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7th Circuit affirms ruling against former jail nurses

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In a discrimination and hostile work environment case, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded for the first time that displays of confederate flags in the workplace may support a hostile work environment claim. However, the judges agreed with the District Court that several African-American nurses formerly employed by a Marion County jail could not support their legal claims.  

In Harriett Ellis, et al. v. CCA of Tennessee LLC d/b/a Corrections Corporation of America, No. 10-2768, former nurses of Marion County Jail II, privately run by CCA of Tennessee, filed a suit against the company claiming racial discrimination, hostile work environment, and that CCA of Tennessee constructively terminated their employment for complaining about problems at the jail in violation of the state whistleblower law.

The nurses’ examples of racial discrimination and hostile work environment were changing shift assignments so that everyone worked a different shift every month, a book found in an administrator’s office referencing monkeys in the work place as in “there is a monkey on my back,” the wearing of a confederate flag t-shirt by two different employees, and a doctor referring to an inmate whose last name was Cole as having the first name as either “black as” or “black ass.” The nurses later quit their jobs and filed this suit.

The District Court granted summary judgment for CCA of Tennessee, finding the plaintiffs didn’t create jury-triable issues on their claims of federal employment discrimination and state-law retaliatory discharge, as well as that one plaintiff’s lawsuit was barred by res judicata.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court that there were no genuine issues of material fact relating to the nurses’ legal claims. The judges did note that the 7th Circuit had never addressed the matter of whether displays of confederate flags in the workplace may support a hostile work environment claim. They agreed with other courts that those displays may support that claim. But in this case, the plaintiffs’ limited number or claims are insufficiently severe to support a hostile work environment claim, wrote Judge Joel Flaum.

Also, summary judgment was appropriate on their whistleblower claims because they pointed out no violation of a state law or rule, or anything else within the whistleblower act’s ambit.

The judges did find that the District Court erred in concluding that one plaintiff’s lawsuit was barred by claim preclusion. Plaintiff Patricia Forrest had filed an earlier unsuccessful federal lawsuit, and the District judge believed Forrest could have amended her complaint in the earlier suit to allege conduct that occurred between the time when she filed the suit and the time when CCA of Tennessee moved for summary judgment. That conclusion didn’t accurately reflect caselaw, wrote Judge Flaum, but the error was a harmless error. The plaintiffs didn’t argue that her claims differed on the merits from the rest of the plaintiffs’ claims.
 

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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