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Ex-hospital security guard loses race discrimination appeal

August 29, 2016

A security guard at a Noblesville hospital was unable to prove to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals his termination after slapping an autistic patient was based on his race.

Chris Lane worked as a security guard at Riverview Hospital from 1999 until August 2012 and had no employment issues. He was called to help with a 17-year-old autistic patient who was hitting and swinging at his caregivers. Lane tried to restrain the patient, who then tried to bite Lane. The patient then spit in the security guard’s mouth, leading to Lane slapping him in the face.

Lane completed a report for the hospital as to why he thought the slap was justified. The sheriff’s department where he had special deputy status sought to file a criminal assault charge against him, but the prosecutor declined to bring the charge.

The hospital’s director of human resources, Ann Kuzee, sought Lane’s termination because the policy prohibits acts or threats of violence, or any form of restraint that is not medically necessary. The hospital gave him the choice of being fired or resigning, so Lane resigned.

He later sued the hospital alleging race discrimination in employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court granted the hospital’s motion for summary judgment.

In support his claim, Lane put together what the 7th Circuit calls “a convincing mosaic” of circumstantial evidence to support an inference of discrimination. He relied on a similar incident involving a white nurse, Kuzee’s factually incorrect response to the EEOC about her knowledge of that incident involving the white nurse, and a comment and question by Kuzee about race.

But none of this evidence supports that Lane was fired because of his race, the judges affirmed.

“The undisputed facts show that Lane intentionally struck a patient. Reasonable managers could disagree about the proper response for the hospital, but termination was certainly one reasonable response. Lane’s effort to put together a mosaic of circumstantial evidence of race discrimination simply does not hold together sufficiently to present a genuine issue of material fact, even when we give him the benefit of conflicts in the evidence and reasonable inference in his favor,” Judge David Hamilton wrote in Chris P. Lane v. Riverview Hospital, 15-1118

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