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Court upholds discrimination claims in coroner's office

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the finding that an African-American Marion County Coroner took action against his white chief deputy coroner because of race, but ordered a reduction in the amount of compensatory damages the deputy coroner could receive.

John Linehan was stripped of certain duties as chief deputy coroner and eventually fired by then-coroner Dr. Kenneth Ackles. Ackles chose Linehan as his chief deputy coroner when he was elected. Ackles wanted to find a way to have more African-Americans work in the office.

Issues arose between Ackles and Linehan when Linehan wanted to discipline Alfarena Ballew, an African-American female deputy coroner, who was late to meetings, crime scenes, and the hospital. Ackles did not want to discipline her. Linehan prepared a written reprimand. Ballew later sent an anonymous letter to members of the City-County Council accusing Linehan of ghost employment.

Other incidents occurred that led to Linehan filing a complaint with human resources that he worked in a hostile environment. That same day, Ackles told Linehan he was going to make a change in chief deputies and later stripped him of some duties. Ackles fired Linehan in December 2005.

An administrative law judge and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found the coroner’s office took action against Linehan based on his race and in retaliation for an internal complaint Linehan filed against Ackles. He received front and back pay, attorney’s fees, and $200,000 in compensatory damages.

The 7th Circuit granted the coroner’s office’s petition for review and affirmed the findings of discrimination and retaliation weren’t erroneous in Marion County Coroner’s Office v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and John Linehan, No. 09-3595. The judges did reduce the $200,000 compensatory damages award because of a lack of evidence supporting that amount. The testimony was brief and only indicated that Linehan had undergone weekly therapy sessions for several months for situational depression, wrote Judge Terence Evans.

Although the coroner’s office argued Linehan should receive no award, the judges found some measure of compensatory damages for emotional distress is warranted. They suggested $20,000, but if the respondents don’t consent to the remittitur, there should be a new hearing on the issue.
 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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