Wednesday Federal Employment Law Update- Race Discrimination and Hostile Work Environment

Hello all, and welcome to your Wednesday Federal Employment Law Update!  Today we review a case out of the Seventh Circuit styled Ellis v. CCA of Tennessee, LLC, 2011 WL 2247384 (7th Cir. June 9, 2011).  Ellis involves an appeal of a defense summary judgment in a case brought by four African-American nurses at a private jail facility for race discrimination, hostile work environment and state law whistleblower claims.  (Editor’s Note:  I have to admit that when I went to Google Image search and typed in “jailhouse nurses” I was a little worried that most pics would be NSFW!).

Eight nurses originally filed suit, but only four pursued the appeal.  In terms of the facts, the nurses took exception to four separate instances of perceived discrimination/harassment.  First, the prison nurses were divided into three shifts.  The day shift, of which all plaintiffs were members, were predominantly African-American.  After some hostility built up between the different shifts, a new shift policy was implemented where all nurses were rotated on a month-to-month basis, which had the effect of having all nurses work with each other at various times, and also had the effect of breaking up the group of African-American nurses. 

Second, after the jail’s health care administrator left for another position, an excerpt of a book titled, “The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey,” was found in her office.  The Seventh Circuit recited several portions of the book, which was a managerial advice piece where the term “monkey” was made synonymous with personal problems, and was not ascribed to individuals of any race. 

Third, one plaintiff observed multiple other jail employees wearing clothing emblazoned with the confederate flag symbol, though none of the employees was a supervisor to any of the plaintiffs. 

Finally, in what I thought was the most compelling instance, one of the nurses conferred with the jail’s doctor about a prisoner whose last name was Cole.  The nurse asked what the prisoner’s first name was and, according to the nurse, the doctor either said “Black as” or “Black ass.”

Still, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment.  The Court afforded no weight to the shift change, as it affected all nurses equally.  The Court also gave no weight to the managerial book, as the Court found that no reasonable juror could view the book as ascribing the term “monkey” to African-Americans.  As to the confederate flag and “black as coal” incidents, the Court held that 1) the incidents were isolated; 2) not perpetrated by the nurse’s supervisors; and 3) was not associated with an adverse employment action; and 4) did not approach the severe and pervasive standard necessary for an objective finding of hostile work environment. 

This was not a close case and I was surprised to see it get taken up on appeal. 

DISCLOSURE:

THE COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG DO NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.  NOR DO THEY CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.  They are provided for informational purposes only.  Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.
Explore posts in the same categories: Federal Employment Law Updates

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