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Mills v. Indiana Department of Child Services

Court of Appeals of Indiana

April 28, 2017

Robert C. Mills, Appellant-Plaintiff,
Indiana Department of Child Services, Shirley Starks, Kristen L. Sparks, Melanie Reising, and Elizabeth Herrmann, Appellees-Defendants

         Appeal from the Vanderburgh Superior Court The Honorable Leslie C. Shively, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 82D01-1411-PL-5329

          Appellant Pro Se Robert C. Mills.

          Attorneys for Appellees Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Andrea E. Rahman Matthew Elliott Deputy Attorneys General.

          Vaidik, Chief Judge.

          Case Summary

         [¶1] Robert Mills, pro se, brought suit against the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) and several of its employees for sex and age discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (via 42 U.S.C. § 1983). He also claimed that DCS violated Title VII's anti-retaliation provision by refusing to interview him for open positions after he filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

         [¶2] DCS moved for and won a judgment on the pleadings on all of Mills's claims against its employees. That ruling left standing only three of Mills's claims- sex and age discrimination and retaliation by DCS. DCS was granted summary judgment on these remaining claims. Mills now appeals the trial court's rulings. We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Mills was employed by DCS as a caseworker from approximately 1975 to 1980 and again from 1984 to 1988. In 1988, he changed positions and worked for DCS as a Child Care Center Licensing Consultant. He held this position until he resigned in 2007. Mills then began working as a Manager of Child Development Services for Evansville Head Start. In 2010, at the age of 62, he retired. A few years later, Mills decided that he needed to increase his monthly pension payments and decided to resume working.

         [¶4] In October 2013, Mills applied for a Family Case Manager position with DCS. At that time, DCS's applicant screening process was multi-step and included a two-part interview. Mills was selected for an interview and met with Melanie Reising and Elizabeth Herrmann, supervisors at DCS. During the interview, Mills was asked why he wanted to come out of retirement, and he stated that he wanted "to work for the State for 2-3 years to solidify my retirement income." Appellant's App. Vol. II p. 157. After the interview concluded, Herrmann sent feedback to Shirley Starks, the local director for DCS, and recommended that Mills not move on in the interview process. Herrmann noted that Mills was hard to engage in conversation, was unable to answer questions with specific examples of using essential skills for the job, was rigid on his views of traditional and non-traditional families-his body language suggested that he was uncomfortable with non-traditional families-and provided generalized answers to questions about child abuse or neglect. Id. at 159. DCS ultimately hired another male applicant.

         [¶5] Three months later, in January 2014, another Family Case Manager position became available, and Mills interviewed for a second time with Reising and Herrmann. Again, Mills restated that his desire for obtaining a position with DCS was to work for two to three years to increase his pension. After the interview, Reising and Herrmann had the same concerns about Mills that they had in October and recommended that he not move on in the interview process. DCS hired a sixty-three-year-old female to fill the position.

         [¶6] In April 2014, Mills filed charges against DCS with the EEOC, alleging sex and age discrimination. After completing its investigation, the EEOC issued Mills a Notice of Right to Sue on August 15, and it took no further action. On August 27 and October 30, Mills submitted additional applications for Family Case Manager positions but was not interviewed for either opening. On November 11, Mills, pro se, filed this lawsuit against DCS, Starks, Herrmann, Reising, Human Resources Generalist Kristen Sparks, DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura, Doe I, Doe II, and Doe III. In his initial complaint, Mills alleged that he was discriminated against by DCS based on his sex and age and retaliated against for filing a charge with the EEOC; he raised claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADEA, and Indiana Code chapter 22-9-2 (Indiana Age Discrimination Act (IADA)).[1] Mills sought relief from DCS and each employee in her individual and official capacity. After filing suit, Mills submitted additional applications with DCS in February 2015 and May 2015; DCS did not interview him for either of these positions.

         [¶7] In May 2015, DCS moved for judgment on the pleadings on many of Mills's claims. DCS argued, among other things, that the individual defendants were not "employers" as defined by the statutes under which Mills sought relief; DCS was subject to the ADEA and was therefore statutorily excluded from the definition of employer under the IADA; and Mills's claim for monetary damages under the ADEA was barred by the State's sovereign immunity and the only relief that he could receive was injunctive. Id. at 26-28. Mills responded to DCS's motion by seeking leave to file an amended complaint, which he was granted.[2] In his amended complaint, Mills no longer named defendants Bonaventura, Doe I, Doe II, and Doe III, and he dropped the IADA claim. Id. at 38-39, 45-52. Mills's amended complaint added a claim under § 1983 for violations of his rights under the Equal Protection Clause. Based on these changes, DCS submitted a supplement to its motion for judgment on the pleadings and argued that DCS is an agency, not a person, under § 1983 and only individuals can be sued under § 1983; and that Mills did not make any factual allegation regarding how the individual defendants violated his constitutional rights under § 1983.

         [¶8] While DCS's motion was pending, Mills filed two motions to compel discovery. The trial court denied those motions and granted DCS's motion for judgment on the pleadings. All individual defendants were dismissed from the suit, and Mills was left with three claims against DCS: sex discrimination under Title VII, age discrimination under the ADEA, and retaliation under Title VII for filing a charge with the EEOC.

         [¶9] DCS then moved for summary judgment on the three remaining claims. Mills opposed the motion and filed a personal affidavit in support of his argument. The court granted DCS's motion, and Mills moved to correct error. The trial court denied the motion.

         [¶10] Mills, still proceeding pro se, now appeals.[3]

          Discussion and Decision

         [¶11] Mills contends that the trial court erred by granting DCS's motion for judgment on the pleadings on some of his claims and by later granting its ...

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