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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Northern Star Hospitality, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 29, 2015

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
NORTHERN STAR HOSPITALITY, INC., d/b/a SPARX RESTAURANT, et al., Defendants-Appellants

Argued September 26, 2014.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 3:12-cv-00214 -- Barbara B. Crabb, Judge.

For Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Plaintiff - Appellee: Julie Loraine Gantz, Attorney, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Washington, DC.

For Northern Star Hospitality, Incorporated, Northern Star Properties, LLC, North Broadway Holdings, Incorporated, Defendants - Appellants: Brandon M. Schwartz, Attorney, Michael D. Schwartz, Attorney, Schwartz Law Firm, Oakdale, MN.

Before FLAUM, MANION, and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 899

Kanne, Circuit Judge.

This case is about equitable remedies under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There is no question that Dion Miller suffered unlawful discrimination under Title VII. He experienced a racist episode

Page 900

in the workplace and was fired in retaliation for opposing it. The sole issue here involves the remedies designed to make him whole.

Specifically, Appellants challenge the district court's decision to hold certain entities--Northern Star Properties, LLC (" Properties" ), and North Broadway Holdings, Inc. (" Holdings" )--liable for the actions of a dissolved entity--Northern Star Hospitality, Inc. (" Hospitality" ). Appellants also challenge the district court's tax-component award to Miller, which comprises additional damages designed to offset his tax liability on his back-pay award.

For the reasons expressed below, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. Background

Dion Miller is an African-American male who worked as a cook for Hospitality, a company that did business as Sparx Restaurant. During his time at Sparx, Miller rose to the position of assistant kitchen manager, earning $14 per hour. He was, by all accounts, a satisfactory employee.

A. The Discrimination

On October 1, 2010, Miller arrived at Sparx to begin his morning shift. A coworker told him to look at the kitchen cooler. When he did, he discovered a defaced dollar bill. The dollar bill depicted a noose around President Washington's neck with a swastika on his forehead and a darkened area on his cheek. Adjacent to President Washington's head was a hooded Klansman on horseback with " KKK" sketched on his hood. A separate picture of the late Gary Coleman--a famous African-American child actor--was posted on the cooler below the dollar bill.

Miller asked a coworker to take a photo of the display, and then he lodged a complaint. Kitchen manager Evan Openshaw and kitchen supervisor Chris Jarmuzek took responsibility for the display. Openshaw said he posted the picture of Gary Coleman, while Jarmuzek said he posted the defaced dollar bill. The restaurant's general manager testified that the posting of the racist dollar bill qualified as a termination-worthy offense. Yet, ...


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