IPFW custodian loses appeal of discrimination, retaliation claims

An Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne custodian who was fired for his role in a physical confrontation with another custodian could not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that his discrimination and retaliation claims should proceed to trial.

Adam Gaff and Zachery Itt got into a confrontation recorded on surveillance equipment showing that they made physical contact with each other, but the court record does not explain the incident further. Purdue University’s Human Resources Department investigated the confrontation and determined its Violent Behavior Policy had been violated. Both men were terminated as a result of the confrontation.

The two had a history of not getting along, with the university having to remove Itt from under Gaff’s supervision after Itt claimed Gaff had gotten in his face and accused him of taking drugs. Gaff alleged that Itt had called him a slur for a gay person and a “fat a–,” according to the court record.

After exhausting his administrative appeals, Gaff filed his lawsuit seeking compensatory damages for gender discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, and retaliation. Gaff alleged that his supervisor retaliated against him due to Itt’s reports to human resources about Gaff’s behavior toward Itt. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the school.

In Adam Gaff v. Indiana-Purdue University of Fort Wayne, 02A03-1504-PL-136, the COA affirmed that Gaff’s federal equal protection and due process claims against IPFW are barred by the 11th Amendment because the school is entitled to sovereign immunity under that amendment. Gaff also failed to state a claim under state constitutional law.

The appeals court also found that Gaff was not fired in retaliation for exercising a statutorily protected activity. He claimed he was fired in retaliation for the confrontation with Itt, Itt’s reports against Gaff and an oral report Gaff made about Itt’s derogatory remarks to him. But none of those actions involve a statutorily protected activity, Judge Edward Najam wrote. In his report, Gaff complained that Itt made derogatory statements about his weight and sexual orientation, neither of which involved protected classes under Title VII, Najam noted.

Gaff also failed to provide any circumstantial evidence that his reports related to complaints of discrimination on the basis of sex, which is a statutorily protected class.
 

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