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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. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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