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Stevens v. Town of West Terre Haute

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

January 19, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Town of West Terre Haute's (“West Terre Haute”) Motion for Summary Judgment on the claims brought against it by Plaintiff Jonathan Stevens. Dkt. 35. Stevens alleges that West Terre Haute discriminated against him when it chose not to hire him because of his race in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Defendant West Terre Haute's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND


         Jonathan Stevens was employed as an unpaid reserve police officer for the West Terre Haute Police Department (“Department”) between September 2013 and March 2014. Complaint, Dkt. 1, ¶ 4. During that time, Stevens twice applied to be a full-time, paid police officer, but was not chosen. Id. Stevens, the only African-American working at the Department, alleges that this was due to his race. Id., ¶¶ 4-6. Ian Redman and Ryan Martin, both Caucasians, received the full-time positions ahead of Stevens. Dkt. 37-1, Lark Dep 26:8-12; Dkt. 36-2, Melton Dep. 52:14-18. Stevens was eventually hired as a paid merit officer based on a recommendation by Chief Scott Melton and unanimous approval from the West Terre Haute Town Council (the “Council”). Dkt. 36-4, McClain Dep. 48:9-13.


         Donald Lark was the Chief of Police for West Terre Haute from September 2010 through November 2013. Lark Dep. 5:18-6:2. Lark testified that the police chief used to have the final say in the hiring of police officers. Id. at 15:4-12. Lark stated that this all changed following the hiring of African-American reserve officer Herman Moothery. Id. at 14:5-15:18. Scott McClain, who served on the Council, approached Lark about the hiring of Moothery and stated that he received numerous phone calls from people in town with concerns about having a “n****r” on the police force. Id. at 15:14-16:6. McClain asked Lark, “When did we hire a n****r[?]” Id. at 16:11-14. Lark, who had developed a friendship with McClain, indicated that McClain was racist and disliked African-Americans. Id. at 16:16-22; 18:11-13; 19:19-21; 20:2-7. Following Lark's appointment as chief, Moothery was terminated for medical reasons. Id. at 21:9-19.

         After the hiring of Stevens' reserve class, McClain expressed concern that he was not notified of the class's hiring. Id. at 22:6-12. Subsequently, the Council would not allow the Department to hire any reserve officers until the Council met each individual in person. Id. at 22:13-23:7.

         During Lark's tenure, he only hired one merit officer, Ian Redman. Id. at 26:8-15. Lark's hiring decision came down to Stevens or Redman. Id. at 30:6-14. Lark believed that Stevens' experience as a paramedic made him a better candidate than Redman. Id. at 39:22-40:5. Lark had a discussion over the potential applicants with Assistant Chief Scott Melton and Council members McClain and Sheila Boatman. Id. at 30:22-32:18. McClain told Lark, “Before we go any further, I want to tell you right now, don't even think about hiring Jonathan Stevens. We will not consider it.” Id. at 31:6-10. When Lark asked why they could not hire Stevens, Boatman stated that “[h]is kind does not belong in this town.” Id. at 31:17-18. McClain then stated that “[Stevens] does not belong here.” Id. at 31:20. McClain refused to discuss hiring Stevens and inquired as to other candidates, at which point Lark indicated his second choice would be Ian Redmond. Id. at 32:3-11. McClain decided that they needed to reopen the application process, which they did. Id. at 32:12-18.

         A couple weeks later, Lark and Melton called McClain and Boatman to discuss the hiring process. Id. at 33:1-9. Lark did not believe that any of the new applicants were as qualified as those already submitted. Id. at 33:10-14. At this point, McClain stated that they would simply not hire anyone. Id. at 33:15-19. Boatman indicated that she had a candidate in mind, and Melton told her that she should have the individual put in an application. Id. at 33:21-25.

         Lark stated that McClain and Boatman thought the line had disconnected, but he and Melton stayed on the phone and heard a private conversation between McClain and Boatman. Id. at 34:2-12. At that point, Boatman stated, “No f*****g way in hell are we hiring Jonathan Stevens.” Id. at 34:13-14. McClain responded, “No way, not going to happen.” Id. at 34:14-15.

         Sometime after the phone conversation, West Terre Haute experienced a flood. Id. at 37:12-18. Lark called McClain and told him that they were “running crazy trying to help people around here.” Id. at 38:9. McClain responded, “Go ahead and get ahold of Ian Redman. Get him on the books … Tell him to come in and fill out the paperwork so we can get somebody on the shift and move past this whole thing.” Id. at 38:11-15. Lark asked if McClain was telling him that he had to hire Ian Redman for the position and McClain responded, “Yes, hire Ian Redman.” Id. at 38:19-21. When Lark asked if he had any other choice, McClain replied, “Not if you want to fill that position.” Id. at 38:22-23. Immediately after that conversation took place, Lark called Redman to offer him the position; Redman accepted. Id. at 38:25-39:8.

         On September 5, 2013, Lark submitted a memorandum on Redman's behalf, which stated that “Assistant Chief Melton and I are in agreement that the person who would make the best hire is Reserve Officer Ian Redman. Officer Redman has been with the Town of West Terre Haute Police Department for over two years and has a stellar record and unquestioned work ethic.” Dkt. 36-1. It went on to state that Redman “has shown a consistent willingness to go above and beyond the course of normal duty by constantly donating numerous hours of his time to serve the citizens of this town … and has always conducted himself in a professional ...

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