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Carter v. Lake County Community Corrections

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

October 3, 2016

KEITH CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
LAKE COUNTY COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM C. LEE, JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants on May 31, 2016. The plaintiff, Keith Carter (“Carter”), filed his response on August 10, 2016, to which the defendants replied on September 6, 2016.

         For the following reasons, the motion will be granted.

         Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment must be granted when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Not every dispute between the parties precludes summary judgment, however, since “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law” warrant a trial. Id. To determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Heft v. Moore, 351 F.3d 278, 282 (7th Cir. 2003). A party opposing a properly supported summary judgment motion may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading, but rather must “marshal and present the court with the evidence she contends will prove her case.” Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010).

         Discussion

         The defendants in this case are Lake County Community Corrections, Lake County, Board of Commissioners of Lake County, Lake County Community Corrections Advisory Board, Brian Johns, Jeffrey Batchelor, Mark Murphy, Lea Johnson, and Kellie Bittorf (collectively “Lake County”). Carter, who is African-American, has sued Lake County pursuant to Title VII, alleging race discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

         Lake County has recited the following facts which it claims are not in dispute. Lake County Community Corrections is an agency in Lake County, Indiana, that oversees and supervises inmates on residential or work release programs in Lake County. During most times relevant, Kellie Bittorf was the Executive Director of Lake County Community Corrections. (Bittorf Decl., Ex. A, Dkt. No. 35-1, ¶ 2.).) Additionally, Mark Murphy was the Director of Operations, Jeffrey Batchelor was the Residential Manager, and Leah Johnson was the Budget and Personnel Manager. (Bittorf Decl. ¶¶ 2-3; Murphy Decl., Ex. B, Dkt. No. 35-2, ¶¶ 2-3;.Johns Decl., Ex. C, Dkt. No. 35-3 ¶ 2)

         Most Lake County Community Corrections operations are centered at the “Kimbrough Center” (Carter Dep., Ex. D, Dkt. No. 35-4, 53:17-24) named after a local African-American judge who started the Community Corrections program. (Carter Dep. 54:11-19.) Because the building is named the Kimbrough Center for Judge James Kimbrough, there are a number of building features that include the letter “K.” (Bittorf Decl. ¶¶ 4-6.) These include bookends that are decorated with the letter “K.” (Bittorf Decl. ¶ 6; see also Carter Dep. Exs. B, L.)

         In 2002, Carter began employment with Lake County Correctional Center as part-time Custody Officer. (Carter Dep. 22:6-8, 42:1-2.) Carter signed receipt of Lake County's Manual of Policies and Procedures on September 27, 2002, including the equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment policies. (Carter Personnel File, Ex. E, Dkt. No. 35-5 at 0048-0050.)

         In 2003, while he was still a part-time employee, Carter was physically beaten by two former inmates. (Carter Dep. 97:18-25.) Those inmates were named Miles Beach and Eric Lewis. (Carter Dep. 97:18-25.) After the incident, Carter was told by Murphy and another official that Beach and Lewis would not be allowed back in Lake County Community Corrections programs. (Carter Dep. 98:1-3.)

         In March 2004, Carter also applied for a supervisor position with Lake County Community Corrections. (Personnel File 0062-0063.) Ultimately, then-Executive Director Robert Hinojosa declined to hire Carter for that position. (Personnel File 0061.) Later in 2004, Carter applied to become a full-time Custody Officer with Lake County Community Corrections. (Personnel File 0060.) This time, Hinojosa hired Carter to fill the full-time position. (Carter Dep. 22:9-11; Personnel File 0064.) Thereafter, from 2004 to 2008, Carter worked as a full-time Custody Officer. (Carter Dep. 42:7-10.)

         In 2008, Carter transferred to a full-time Field Officer position. (Carter Dep. 42:11-13.) In 2010, Carter moved back to working as a full-time Custody Officer. (Carter Dep. 42:21-24.) In 2011, Carter again transferred to the full-time Field Officer position. (Carter Dep. 43:19-21.)

         In 2011, Eric Lewis-one of the individuals involved in the original 2003 battery-was sentenced to serve a sentence with Lake County Community Corrections by the Lake County Superior Court. (Carter Dep. 98:21-25, 99:1-5.) Once this was discovered, however, Lewis was removed from the Lake County Community Corrections program. The Lake County Superior Court-not Carter's supervisors-decides whether, how and when to sentence individuals to Community Corrections. (Carter Dep. 99:13-100:1.)

         In 2013, Carter returned for a final time to the full-time Custody Officer position. (Carter Dep. 50:6-10.) Throughout his employment, Carter frequently worked with part-time Corrections Officer Jimmy Glass and Custody Officer Angela Steward. (Jimmy Glass Dep., Ex. F, Dkt. No. 35-6, 10:13-17; Steward Decl., Ex. G, Dkt. No. 35-7, ¶ 3.)

         Throughout Carter's employment, he was aware of Lake County's policy against discrimination and harassment. (Personnel File 0048-0050.) In fact, the Handbook strictly prohibits discrimination based upon race. (Lake Co. Handbook, Ex. H, Dkt. No. 35-8, 0190.) The Handbook also prohibits harassment, including “[c]omments or actions that are deliberately hurtful, rude, unprofessional, or [that] offend other employees.” (Handbook 0193.)

         Lake County's Employee Handbook provides a procedure through which employees can bring complaints based on civil rights violations. (See Handbook 0186-0187, 0193-0194.) Employees with complaints about inappropriate or harassing behavior are encouraged to bring the behavior to their supervisors. (Handbook 0193-0194.) Any employees with complaints about discrimination in the work place “has a duty to immediately report the incident to the County Human Resources Consultant … in accordance with [County] policy.” (Handbook 0190.)

         In addition to these policies, the County also provides a very specific complaint procedure for civil rights complaints. (Handbook 0186-0187.) “Any employee who feels he/she has received unfair treatment in discipline, pay, promotion or assignment because of his/her race [or other protected characteristics] … may file a complaint.” (Handbook 0186.) The policy also refers all complaints to the County's Grievance Committee for investigation and determination. (Handbook 0186-0187.) The policy requires any complaint to “be filed within thirty (30) calendar days of the alleged discriminatory action.” (Handbook 0187.)

         During Carter's entire employment with Lake County Community Corrections, he did not complain about any discrimination, harassment, or other inappropriate conduct based on race. (Bittorf Decl. ¶ 8; Murphy Decl. ¶ 9; Johns Decl. ¶ 5.) In addition, two of Carter's coworkers, Glass and Steward never observed Johns, Batchelor, Murphy, Johnson, or Bittorf discriminate against or harass someone on the basis of race. (Glass Dep. 13:8-25, 14:1-21; Steward Decl. ¶ 5.) Carter never availed himself of these policies, and he never complained regarding racial harassment in writing. (Bittorf Decl. ¶ 8; Murphy Decl. ¶ 9; Johns Decl. ¶ 5; Carter Dep. 24:11-14.) Carter never submitted a formal complaint to the Human Resources Consultant, nor did he submit a complaint to the Grievance Committee. (Murphy Decl. ¶ 9; Johns Decl. ¶ 5.)

         On or about March 24, 2014, Lake County eliminated all full-time Custody Officer positions in its Community Corrections program. (Personnel File 0085.) These positions were eliminated for financial reasons. (Personnel File 0085.) In particular, the increased cost of health insurance led Lake County to determine that the cost of providing benefit packages to these fulltime Custody Officers was too great for the budget. (Personnel File 0085.)

         At the time of this decision, Lake County employed two individuals in the full-time Custody Officer position: Carter, who is African-American, and Algird Galinas, who is Caucasian. (Bittorf Decl. ¶ 11; Carter Dep. 119:8-11.) Neither Carter nor Galinas were terminated outright. Instead, both employees were placed in part-time positions with Lake County. (Bittorf Decl. ¶ 12.) After Carter and Galinas were placed in part-time positions, there were no remaining individuals in the full-time Custody Officer position. (Carter Dep. 122:19-25.) There were also no people in the full-time Field Officer position. (Carter Dep. 123:1-6.)

         Also, after the decision was made to eliminate the full-time Field Officer position, Johns, Murphy, and Batchelor all wrote positive letters of reference for Carter. (Carter Dep. 123:7-18; Personnel File 0070-0071.) These letters spoke very positively of Carter-calling him “very dedicated, ” saying he could be “count[ed] on” and “recommend[ing]” him. (Personnel File 0070-0071.) These letters make clear that “due to budget concerns, Mr. Carter's full-time position was eliminated.” (Personnel File 0070-0071.) Johns stated that “I am pleased to continue to be able to work with him in that [part-time] capacity.” (Personnel File 0071.)

         Immediately upon learning of the termination of all full-time Field Officer positions, Carter submitted his Charge of Discrimination (“Charge”) with the EEOC. (Personnel File 0001.) That Charge-filed on March 24, 2014-alleged discrimination on “5-20-2013” at the “[e]arliest” and on “5-20-2013” at the “[l]atest.” (Personnel File 0001.)

         That Charge states that “Batchelor” and “Johns” are both “white and Klu (sic) Klux Klan (KKK) members.” (Personnel File 0001.) The Charge claims that Carter had been subjected to various “kinds of hostility and harassment since 2004, ” that he was told his “kind was not wanted there, ” and that “white management has been trying to get rid of me.” (Personnel File 0001.) He claims the “last act” was on March 24, 2014 when he alleges he was “demoted” “to a part-time position. (Personnel File 0001.)

         Nonetheless, after March 24, 2014, when he and Galinas were put on part-time status, Carter voluntarily left his employment at Lake County. (See Carter Dep. 126-14-22.) Carter stopped reporting to work but submitted no resignation at that time. (Johns Decl. ¶ 16.)

         Finally, on August 5, 2014, Carter submitted a resignation letter. (Carter Dep. 128:6-9; Personnel File 0059.) In this resignation letter, Carter did not state that racial discrimination was related to his decision to resign. (Carter Dep. 128:6-9; Personnel File 0059.) Instead, he stated he was resigning “due to a lot of stress caused by … the Executive Staff by eliminating my full time Custody Officer position and moving me to part time. The reason given was allegedly due to budgetary downfalls and employees insurance.” (Personnel File 0059.)

         Carter also alleged that the budget was sufficient to keep his position and that “he got moved around and then demoted” when he “told you about hate symbols being displayed … in the building.” (Personnel File 0059.) Additionally, Carter has stated that he could not afford to remain working for Lake County if he was employed only part-time. (Carter Dep. 128:10-12.)

         During the investigation into his Charge, Carter discussed his reasons for resigning with the EEOC's investigator. (Carter Dep. 126:5-11, 127:5-21.) In a September 1, 2014 email, Carter stated to the investigator: “When I turned in my resignation letter, I put I was resigning because they, the executive staff, put a lot of stress on me by eliminating my full-time position.” (Carter Dep. 126:5-11, 127:5-21.)

         Following the filing of his Charge, Plaintiff has made a number of allegations for the first time against Lake County and the Individual Defendants. These allegations include:

         Carter states that he received a picture in his work mailbox that had the word “Teamwork” on it; the picture was a photograph of rainbows and red and yellow tulips in an open field. (Carter Dep. 88:13-89:4, Carter Dep. Ex. F.) Under the photograph, the caption states: “Individually we are special; together we are spectacular.” (Carter Dep. Ex. F.) Carter states that this picture is race-based because “the last song Hitler listened to was Blood Red Roses, and the yellow roses are the yellow rose of Texas.” (Carter Dep. 89:16-90:3.) Carter also stated, without a reason, that the rainbow was a racist symbol. (Carter Dep. 90:4-8.)

         Carter also stated that-at some time in 2010 or 2011-an unknown individual posted a picture on a wall in the Community Corrections facility of a “black man with his pants sagging.” (Carter Dep. 83:15-22.) Carter does not have the picture or any evidence as to who posted it or how long the photo was up. (Carter Dep. 83:19-20.)

         Carter also claims that he saw a picture of Murphy, Batchelor, Johns, and Supervisor Roderick Threatt in 2011 or 2012. (Carter Dep. 84:4-12.) In the picture, Carter claims that Murphy, Batchelor, and Johns were portrayed as “The Brady Bunch, ” and Threatt was portrayed as the character “Buckwheat.” (Carter Dep. 84:4-12.) Carter does not have the picture or any evidence as to who posted it or how long the photo was up. (Carter Dep. 84:4-12.)

         As for the Kimbrough building itself, Carter states that in a supervisor's office, there are two bookends in the shape of the letter “K.” (Carter Dep. 64:11-17; Carter Dep. Ex. B.) The bookends were shaped like the letter “K” because the building is named the Kimbrough Center. (Murphy Decl. ¶¶ 4-6.)

         Carter also alleges that Murphy has two “gray lightning bolts . . . and a five-point star” in his office. (Carter Dep. 86:21-87:6.) Murphy has no such “lightning bolts” in his office, but he does have a number of plaques with the Lake County Sheriff's star. (Murphy Decl. ¶ 17.) Carter also states that somewhere in the Kimbrough building was a poster of a “black donkey with a circle around it and a line drawn through it” in a secretary's office across from the break room. (Carter Dep. 62:2-12.) Carter states that this poster was in the secretary's office from 2008 until 2012 or 2013. (Carter Dep. 62:19-24.) No such poster has ever been in the secretary's office. (Johns Decl. ¶ 6; Glass Dep., 21:24-25, 22:1-10.)

         Carter also cites to a poster of a group of skydivers with the word “Teamwork.” (Carter Dep. 119:12-25, 120:1-25; Carter Dep. Ex. L.) That poster-with skydivers forming a pattern-is captioned: “Giving a hand makes all the difference.” (Carter Dep. Ex. L.)

         Finally, Carter complained of a fire evacuation plan for the Kimbrough building that has a “cross” on it to depiction escape routes. (Carter Dep. 77:4-8.) Carter claims the evacuation plan's cross was the German “Iron Cross” and, therefore, he claims it is also a symbol of the Ku Klux Klan. (Carter Dep. 77:19-25, 78:1-9; Carter Dep. Ex. D.)

         Carter also stated that, in two copies of the Inmate Rule Book, he saw another depiction of a cross that he claims was an “Iron Cross.” (Carter Dep. 81:22-82:2.) One copy of the Inmate Rule was hanging up on a wall, and the other was the copy available for all inmates and Custody Officers to view. (Carter Dep. 82:3-11.) Other than his testimony, Carter has provided no photos or other evidence of this symbol in the Inmate Rule Book.

         Carter also alleges that he was harassed in other ways. He states that, in 2008, his schedule was changed for one shift. (Carter Dep. 55:5-9.) Carter typically worked the day shift, but he was scheduled to work a later shift on one particular day. (Carter Dep. 55:10-11; 57:9-11.) The reason ...


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