State prevails against fired DCS supervisor, but 14th Amendment claim will proceed

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A former Indiana Department of Child Services supervisor who alleged he was fired in retaliation for complaints he made about race and sex discrimination will not be able to proceed with his complaint after a federal judge granted summary judgment to the state. However, one 14th Amendment claim survived the ruling.

Rene Galvan Jr. sued the state after being fired from his longtime position with the Indiana Department of Child Services in November 2018.

Galvan began his career with DCS in 2012, when he was hired as a family case manager in Hamilton County. He later transferred to the DCS office in Madison County, where he eventually became a FCM supervisor.

From 2012 through 2016, Galvan received “meets” or “exceeds” expectations ratings in every assessed category on his appraisal reports and was praised for his teamwork. However, he was also described by supervisors as being a “jokester,” and as having a tendency to “show and state visible frustrations … in unprofessional ways” when he “disagreed with management directives.” He was advised to focus on his demeanor and on improving his communication skills.

But issues involving Galavan began to increase in the ensuing years under the leadership of Joannie Crum, regional director of the Madison County DCS office. Crum had received at least one report that Galavan had caused another employee to cry and corrected him on various occasions without formal discipline.

By the end of 2017, Galvan received a “needs improvement” overall rating as well as a “does not meet” expectations rating in the customer service and employee relations categories.

At one point in mid-2018, Galvan told both Crum and local office director Kathryn Heman that he felt like he was being treated differently and discriminated against, and that he never noticed the female case managers being disciplined for not following directives or lack of communication.

Then in September 2018, Galavan received a written reprimand for directing a family case manager under his supervision to “unsubstantiate” domestic violence allegations in connection with an incident that had occurred that month. The following month, family case manager Kristin Nigg complained to Heman about Galvan’s supervision.

Following a pre-deprivation hearing, Galvan was informed of his termination of employment. The notice letter said that he failed to provide “appropriate supervision to an employee in the field nor did [he] provide appropriate oversight and guidance around safety planning,” and failed to “follow procedure regarding safety staffing or review safety plans created by the FCM regarding assessment.”

Galvan raised discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII, claiming the defendants failed several times to transfer him to positions he applied for in Hamilton County. He also alleged he was ultimately fired based on his Hispanic race and his sex and in retaliation for having complained about discrimination.

Additionally, Galvan brought a 14th Amendment due process claim against Crum for terminating him, thereby depriving him of his property rights without just cause or proper due process.

The state moved for summary judgment on Galvan’s claims, which Indiana Southern District Court Senior Judge Sarah Evans Barker mostly granted in Rene Galvan, Jr. v. State of Indiana, et al., 1:19-cv-04446.

But Barker rejected the state’s request as to Galvan’s 14th Amendment due process claim, finding that it omitted from briefing any mention of that claim, much less any theories that would defeat it.

“Plaintiff’s briefing was similarly lacking. Therefore, lacking such arguments, summary judgment is unavailable on this claim,” the district court wrote in a Wednesday order.

As for the remaining claims, Barker concluded Galavan’s discriminatory termination claim was “insufficient to establish a nexus between Defendants’ disciplinary and termination decisions and Mr. Galvan’s race or sex such that no reasonable jury could find that his termination was the result of unlawful discrimination.”

To support that claim, Galavan had pointed to Crum’s decision to require him to take Heman, a white woman, with him when he represented DCS at local Hispanic outreach meetings. Crum told Galavan she no longer wanted him to attend those meetings as a DCS representative alone, even after, according to Galavan, the event coordinators said Heman’s presence made guests “uncomfortable.”

But Barker found that Crum’s remark about Galvan’s attendance at Hispanic outreach meetings as a representative of DCS were “far too ambiguous to raise an inference of racial or sex discrimination.”

She also concluded that several similarly-situated comparators whom Galvan identified from his workplace — including a Hispanic male supervisor, a white male caseworker, Crum, Heman and Nigg — were, in fact, not similar at all. Thus, their treatment did not and could not support an inference of discrimination, Barker concluded.

As to his retaliation claim, the district court concluded that the fact that Galvan was formally disciplined a few weeks after filing a civil service complaint was not evidence supporting his contention that the defendants engaged in a pattern of retaliatory discipline without some evidence that he had first engaged in protected activity under Title VII.

“The fact that Mr. Galvan was terminated approximately three to four months following his mid-summer 2018 complaints of discrimination, even crediting his testimony that, to his knowledge, those complaints were not investigated, is simply not enough, without some evidence that connects his termination to those discrimination complaints, to raise an inference of retaliation,” Barker wrote.

Finally, the court concluded the defendants were entitled to summary judgment on Galvan’s Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims that were based on his failure to be selected for various Hamilton County positions that he applied for throughout his tenure, despite his assertion that he was better qualified for the job than the other four candidates.

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