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7th Circuit: No evidence officer was victim of racial discrimination

June 10, 2015

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of defendants’ motion for summary judgment on a St. Joseph County Police sergeant’s lawsuit claiming discrimination because he is African-American. The judges held the man was unable to prove discrimination after he was passed over for promotions or began working in the department’s property room.

Sgt. Michael Miller ran in the Democratic primary in 2010 for sheriff. He lost to Michael Grzegorek. Miller expressed interest in being appointed assistant chief or warden of the county jail, but Grzegorek appointed a previous sheriff as assistant chief and retained the current jail warden.

Miller was then either asked or ordered (the court record is unclear) to work in the sheriff’s department’s property room, which housed around 1,000 guns that needed to be sorted. He took the position, which involved no change in rank, pay or benefits. He was offered a different position months later after expressing dissatisfaction, but he declined to move.

In his lawsuit, Miller argued this assignment was degrading and that he was not asked about his possible interest in other vacant positions that would have been promotions. The District Court found Miller could not prove discrimination under the direct or indirect methods of proving such a claim.

The 7th Circuit noted that Miller is a member of a protected class based on his race and he suffered an adverse action by being denied the promotions he sought. But there is no evidence those had anything to do with his race, Judge Richard Posner wrote in Michael A. Miller v. St. Joseph County, et al., 14-2989.

It’s also apparent that his qualifications for the warden or assistant chief positions were less impressive than those persons appointed or retained, Posner noted. There is nothing to suggest that Miller was asked to work in the property room based on his race, and he even turned down a chance to move to a different unit.

The 7th Circuit also ruled his supplemental state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress is barred because he failed to give notice to the county of a tort claim within 180 days of the action giving rise to the claim.

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