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Fired DOC counselor’s sex-discrimination claim revived by 7th Circuit

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a former Department of Correction substance abuse counselor’s lawsuit alleging sex-discrimination and hostile work environment, finding she was treated differently as compared to the employee she had an affair with while working at a maximum-security prison.

Connie J. Orton-Bell, who worked at Pendleton Correctional Facility for two years, began an affair with Major Joe Ditmer, a 25-year veteran of the DOC who was in charge of custody at the facility. They had sexual intercourse in Ditmer’s office and off-site. Officials suspected the two were having an affair and began an investigation. At this time, officials also were investigating Orton-Bell’s claim that she and another young female employee’s desks appeared to have been used at night. The investigation revealed that night staff would have sex on their desks. DOC officials told Orton-Bell that they didn’t care as long as staff wasn’t having sex with inmates and that she should wash down the desk every morning.

After Orton-Bell and Ditmer admitted to having an affair, they were both terminated, but Ditmer was allowed to resign, keep his benefits and be hired as a contractor and continue working at the facility. Orton-Bell was not given the same type of agreement and had difficulty obtaining unemployment benefits.

She sued, alleging sex-discrimination, hostile work environment and a retaliation claim based on her complaint about staff using her desk for sex. Her hostile work environment claim was based on explicit sexual comments male staffers directed toward her, and that she and other female employees would be patted down for longer periods of time in front of male staffers as they ogled and made sexual comments.

The state moved for summary judgment on her claims, which the District Court granted. But the 7th Circuit reversed on her sex-discrimination and hostile work environment claims. The judges found that the unending barrage of sexual comments made toward her supported her hostile work claim, but there is no evidence that staff used her desk at night because she was a woman.

“The conduct was disgusting, but that night-shift employees were using a conveniently private, secure yet accessible office for sex does not indicate that they were doing so because the office’s daytime occupant was a woman,” Judge Daniel Manion wrote.

The 7th Circuit affirmed regarding her retaliation claim for the same reason, noting she failed to establish that she had engaged in a protected activity.

The judges found that Ditmer could be considered a similarly situated employee as Orton-Bell and that he received more favorable treatment after their affair was discovered by officials.

“Firing the Major in Charge of Custody for an affair which compromised his ability to lead (especially given his repeated past violations of the conduct code) makes sense,” Manion wrote. “But letting him resign and retain the ability to keep working (with all attendant benefits) while firing the female counselor with whom he had an affair is suspect.”

The case, Connie J. Orton-Bell v. State of Indiana, 13-1235, is remanded for further proceedings.

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  1. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

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