Geologist loses second wrongful-termination lawsuit against INDOT

A geologist who tried to detour around the summary judgment granted to the Indiana Department of Transportation in his wrongful-termination lawsuit was blocked by 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found he was trying to take a road he had already traveled.

Peter Daza sued INDOT after he was fired in 2015, claiming his termination was because officials had discriminated against him based on race, color, age and political speech and had retaliated against complaints he had made regarding the alleged discrimination.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment to INDOT and was affirmed by the 7th Circuit in 2019. However, less than a month after the district court’s ruling, Daza filed a second complaint that made the same arguments as his first lawsuit with the addition of a failure-to-rehire allegation.

Again, the Southern Indiana District Court granted summary judgment to INDOT based on the doctrine of claim preclusion. This requires litigants to raise all the theories that relate to a single claim in one proceeding.

The 7th Circuit affirmed Wednesday in Peter Daza v. State of Indiana, et al., 20-1209.

Daza asserted his new litigation did not fall within the scope of the claim adjudicated in his first complaint. However, the 7th Circuit agreed that even though Daza did not explicitly raise the failure-to-rehire theory in his first lawsuit, he did not provide any evidence that he again tried to gain employment with INDOT.

“The problem with Daza’s argument, the district court found, was that he presented no ‘evidence that he even reapplied for his position and was rejected and, even if he had, [there was no] evidence that his EEOC Charge factored into a decision not to re-hire him.’ Although this was at the summary-judgment stage, the principles underlying trial by consent apply here,” Judge Diane Wood wrote for the court, referencing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(b)(2). “Both parties engaged in this argument, and that, along with the obvious connection between a complaint about being fired and a complaint that one was not re-instated to the same position, is enough to show that it was part of the earlier litigation.”

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