Former deputy had too little evidence to support retaliation claim

August 26, 2015

A former Marion County Sheriff’s Department deputy, who previously had good job evaluations, was unable to present evidence to convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that the investigation which led to his firing was actually a pretext for retaliating against him.

The 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the sheriff’s department in Eric V. Harden v. Marion County Sheriff’s Department, 14-1713. The unanimous panel determined that “no reasonable jury” could find the investigation by the Internal Affairs Dept. was pretextual.

Eric Harden sued the sheriff’s department under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 after he was terminated for stealing $100 from a person he arrested. An internal affairs investigation concluded he was the thief, but Harden claimed his firing was in retaliation for his testifying on behalf of African American police officers in a race discrimination investigation.

However, the 7th Circuit found no evidence supported Harden’s assertion that the investigation was a “sham” designed to give the department grounds to end his employment.

The 7th Circuit held “in a typical sham investigation” the investigators fabricate, ignore or misrepresent evidence to get the desired outcome. Harden’s investigation did not show signs of being a sham.  

“The investigation at issue in this case, by contrast, was thorough and transparent. The investigators interviewed each and every person involved in the incident (fourteen in all), they reviewed surveillance footage and radio traffic, and they explained their grounds for eliminating suspects other than Harden. Moreover, there is no evidence of any kind that the investigators themselves harbored retaliatory animus.”

Although Harden offered several reasons to support his contention that the investigation was pretextual, the 7th Circuit held Harden was not able to show the sheriff’s department had other motives. Harden failed to identify weaknesses, implausibilities and inconsistencies in the report that would lead a reasonable person to find it unworthy of credence.



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