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Coroner's office loses 2nd reverse-discrimination appeal

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a reverse-discrimination case against Marion County should be able to proceed in federal court in Indianapolis because evidence shows the former county coroner’s decision to terminate a forensic pathology company’s contract may have been based on race.

A unanimous decision came today in Stephen Radentz, et al. v. Marion County, et al., No. 10-1523, which involves the line of litigation stemming from actions by former Marion County Coroner Kenneth Ackles and Chief Deputy Coroner Alfarena Ballew when they were in the office in 2005 and 2006.

In this case, Ackles and Ballew terminated plaintiff Forensic Pathology Associates of Indiana’s five-year contract that had started in 2005 and entailed providing the county office with physicians and support staff for forensic pathology services and autopsies. The management contended it was because of excessive costs and the contract termination saved the county several hundred thousand dollars a year on what it paid for out-of-county autopsy supplies. Forensic Pathology alleged the county office had been pleased with the quality of work and instead this was part of a broader effort to replace white workers with African-Americans. At one point after the contract’s termination, Ackles indicated he’d been pleased with the forensic services, but at the time cited a contract provision allowing termination without cause within six months to end the contract. He replaced Forensic Pathology with an African-American pathologist, Dr. Joyce Carter. All of that led to this federal suit.

U.S. Judge William Lawrence in the Southern District of Indiana granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment against Forensic Pathology and its founders. But the 7th Circuit disagreed with those findings based on the record in this case, determining at several points that evidence shows a trend that Ackles and Ballew based their decision more on race than budgetary reasons.

Part of the evidence in the record included statements from employees who’d overheard statements about replacing white workers with African-Americans, the overall racial makeup shift in that office during Ackles’ term, and that the contract allowed for ending those autopsy services rather than cancelling the entire contract itself. The appellate panel rejected the defendants’ arguments that the court didn’t have the authority to examine the office’s decision-making process, finding that it had the authority to determine whether the asserted justification given was honest-held.

“Taken as a whole, we cannot conclude that a jury would have been compelled to believe the defendants’ explanation,” Circuit Judge Illana Diamond Rovner wrote for the panel that also included Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and Judge Richard Posner. “The issue before us is whether summary judgment was proper. There is a factual dispute as to whether the decision to terminate the contract was based on a nondiscriminatory reason or whether it was race-based.”

This decision remands the case back to the District level to continue proceedings.

This is the second time during the past year the county has lost a case involving the former coroner. In July 2010, the 7th Circuit in Marion County Coroner’s Office v. EEOC, No. 09-3595, affirmed the District’s findings of discrimination and retaliation in a suit filed by former Chief Deputy Coroner John Lineham. Lineham, who is white, was fired by Ackles in December 2005 and replaced with Ballew, an African-American woman.
 

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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