Janitor loses pro se complaint alleging discrimination

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals noted that it was a “close call” whether a man worked in a hostile work environment as a school temporary janitor, but judges found that he could not meet his legal burden to prove that he suffered severe or pervasive harassment based on his race.

James Nichols sued the Michigan City Area Schools pro se, alleging two Title VII violations: hostile work environment and that he was fired because  he is African-American. Nichols worked as a temporary janitor at Springfield Elementary and claimed that he was harassed by co-worker Bette Johnston. He alleged she made racial slurs toward him, acted scared of him, and she and other employees tried to bait him into stealing items from an unattended purse.

The school principal spoke with Nichols’ supervisors at the Plant Planning Department about concerns regarding Nichols’ “strange” behavior. The supervisors decided to remove Nichols’ from the school and told him if they had any other work, they would call, but they never did.

The District Court granted Michigan City’s motion for summary judgment in its entirety.

The 7th Circuit found Nichols’ hostile work environment claim failed because he did not provide sufficient evidence for a reasonable juror to conclude that he was subjected to harassing conduct that was severe or pervasive. He argued that Johnston’s alleged “black n----r” comment constituted severe harassment.

“… while referring to colleagues with such disrespectful language is deplorable and has no place in the workforce, one utterance of the n-word has not generally been held to be severe enough to rise to the level of establishing liability,” Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote.

Nichols can only succeed if the totality of the collection of allegedly harassing incidents triggers liability. “While it is a close call whether the conduct here is severe or pervasive, Nichols’ claim ultimately fails,” she wrote.

He never alleged that he was physically threatened and the alleged harassment didn’t interfere with his work performance. Finally, the judges concluded that a reasonable trier of fact couldn’t conclude that all of the allegedly harassing comments were directed at him.

And the judges held his claim that he was fired because of his race fared no better than his harassment claim. They found he did not provide enough evidence to survive summary judgment. Evidence was presented by the school that employees were concerned about his mental state and he acted strangely the day he was fired. In addition, the school was going to fill his job with a full-time janitor the next week, regardless of Nichols’ work performance.

Because he did not meet his legal burden, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in James Nichols v. Michigan City Plant Planning Department, Michigan City Area Schools, 13-2893.  


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.