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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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