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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. 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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