7th Circuit: Insufficient evidence sinks ex-employees’ sexual harassment, racial discrimination claims

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Editor’s note: This 7th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion contains sensitive content.

Two former employees of a commercial and aerospace manufacturing company were unable to convince the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday that they were subjected to a hostile work environment based on sexual and racial comments directed at them by other workers.

Ashaki Paschall and Gerald Ragland both worked at Tube Processing Corporation in Indianapolis where, during their respective employments, they experienced what they believed to be instances of sexual and racial harassment.

Paschall, a Black woman, alleged that she was subjected to a hostile work environment based on her sex and race while she worked at Tube Processing from Sept. 4, 2018 to Oct. 29, 2018. Ragland, a Black man, alleged he was subjected to a hostile work environment based on his race during his employment there from 2016 to 2018.

Paschall’s experience with sexual harassment began just days after she started the job when John Benash, a white man, made obscene comments directly towards her.

Benash asked Paschall explicit questions about her experiences having sex, which Paschall immediately reported to Josh Combs, the first shift group leader in her department.

Paschall was moved to a different job for the rest of that day and was assigned to work near Benash the following day. She alleged she also heard Benash using racial slurs to describe her with other coworkers and reported that incident.

Additionally, Paschall alleged she experienced racial harassment from Barb Odom, a white woman, who made comments about leaving Decatur, Indiana after “they bussed you guys out there,” and asked Paschall a question that used a racial epithet.

Those incidents were also reported to Combs and Odom was suspended for three days and warned that if she ever used racially inappropriate language again she would be terminated.

Paschall also had more general complaints about racism impacting her work environment at Tube Processing when she did not receive overtime after reporting harassment; and detailing how employees wore confederate flag T-shirts and apparel with the slogan “Make America Great Again,” which she believed was racist. Paschall ultimately quit her job at the facility

Ragland brought similar complaints about feeling that he was exposed to a racist work environment, mentioning both Odom and Benash.

Specifically, Ragland in his claims said he believed that white employees were treated better and given less difficult jobs than Black employees, noting that some employees referred to themselves as the “Good Old Boys Gang,” but that he could not “pinpoint exactly if they w[ere] being raci[st] towards [him].”

Moreover, Ragland said he was displeased with the rate at which he moved from temporary to permanent employee, claiming that white employees got hired as permanent employees more quickly than he did and that he was mistreated during certain interactions because of his race.

He pointed to instances where Combs informally reprimanded Ragland for wearing headphones and hooded sweatshirts against company policy and allegedly accused Ragland of stealing. Like Paschall, Ragland said he thought that his coworkers wearing confederate flag and “Make America Great Again” apparel was racist.

During his time at Tube Processing, Ragland received various verbal warnings and disciplinary write-ups. He ultimately submitted a resignation letter in November 2018, but before he could finish his last day of work on Dec. 1, 2018, Tube Processing fired Ragland and directed him to leave on Nov. 29.

Paschall and Ragland’s suit alleged that they were subjected to a hostile work environment based on sex, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1 to -17, and based on race, in violation of Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, respectively.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment to Tube Processing, finding that neither Paschall nor Ragland had produced sufficient evidence from which a reasonable factfinder could conclude that they satisfied all the elements of their claims.

Members of the 7th Circuit upheld that decision in Ashaki Paschall and Gerald Ragland v. Tube Processing Corporation, 21-1853.

It first concluded on Paschall’s sexual harassment claim against Benash that Tube Processing was not negligent in discovering or remedying the alleged harassment.

“After Benash made his lewd comments to Paschall, she immediately reported them to Combs. Combs then assigned Paschall to a different job for the rest of the day. Paschall never reported Benash again for any sexual harassment, before or after Tube Processing reprimanded him,” 7th Circuit Judge Michael Kanne wrote.

Turning to the racial discrimination claims, the 7th Circuit concluded for both Paschall and Ragland that most of their allegations failed to support a claim for a hostile work environment because they did not show that the alleged harassment was based on their race.

“Paschall and Ragland contend that they had to do harder jobs than white employees, were not allowed to bid for other jobs, were denied overtime or opportunities for bonuses, had to work as temporary employees longer than others did, and were generally treated more harshly than white employees,” Kanne wrote. “But they do not provide sufficient evidence to support these assertions. That is, the evidence shows that the above identified harassment was not connected to their race.”

It also found insufficient evidence and a lack of provided examples to support Ragland’s contention that Combs reprimanded him based on his race for wearing a hoodie, headphones and for stealing.

Additionally, the 7th Circuit did not resolve the issue of Odom’s use of a racial epithet “because Paschall’s and Ragland’s arguments fail for the same reasons Paschall’s hostile work environment claim based on sex failed—because Tube Processing took prompt and effective remedial action.”

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