United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Watson filed this action alleging that the State of Indiana
Department of Correction (IDOC) discriminated against her on
the basis of her race and sex when it terminated her
employment as a corrections officer. Upon the close of
discovery, IDOC moved for summary judgment, arguing that
neither Ms. Watson's race nor her sex contributed to the
decision to fire her. For the following reasons, the Court
grants the motion for summary judgment.
Watson applied for employment with IDOC as a correctional
officer at Indiana State Prison in November 2014. A mandatory
pre-interview questionnaire required Ms. Watson to indicate
whether she had any known relatives incarcerated in the IDOC.
In response, Ms. Watson indicated that she had a sibling
named “Victor Blissitt” incarcerated at either
Indiana State Prison or Westville Correctional Facility. Ms.
Watson also indicated on the same questionnaire that she had
previously visited an IDOC inmate, against listing an
individual by the name of “Victor Blissitt.” Ms.
Watson was hired by IDOC and subsequently began attending the
required training for new correctional officers.
December 11, 2014, the training class covered the topic of
trafficking contraband in prison. During a break from the
training several of the students were discussing that topic.
Ms. Watson allegedly made several comments that her
classmates found concerning and reported to Internal Affairs.
The reports, submitted by four of her classmates, alleged
that Ms. Watson “stated that she knew of offenders who
had cell phones in [Indiana State Prison], ” that
“she believed if she were to traffic, inmates would not
snitch on her, they only snitch on other offenders, ”
and that “trafficking isn't really a big
deal.” [DE 97-2 at 10-15].
reports were forwarded to the warden of Indiana State Prison,
who instructed Internal Affairs to investigate. Specifically,
the warden emailed two Internal Affairs investigators stating
“I'd like this employee seriously interviewed
before she begins on shift. If this is true, I don't want
her and would like to cut our losses but I need something
more than the three staff witness statements.” [DE
92-15 at 2]. Ms. Watson was interviewed by Internal Affairs
on December 15, 2014. Ms. Watson denied making the statements
in question and denied knowing any inmates who had
cellphones. She also said that she believed her classmates
were stereotyping her as someone prone to trafficking with
offenders because “she is cute” and
“offenders will ‘hit' on her.” [DE
92-15 at 1]. In a statement written after the interview, Ms.
Watson indicated that she believed she may have been
“misinterpreted” and that her classmates'
reports were motivated by their stereotype of her being
likely to engage in trafficking because, as a female, she
would be an easy target for manipulation by offenders. [DE
97-2 at 7].
the December 15 interview, the investigators also questioned
Ms. Watson about the sibling listed on her job application.
Ms. Watson said her brother's name was “Victor
Blissitt” and that he was incarcerated at either
Indiana State Prison or Westville Correctional Facility, and
that she last visited him in 2012. While Ms. Watson was
writing her statement after the interview, the investigators
found a visitation application dated July 11, 2009, showing
that Ms. Watson had visited “Victor Crews” at
Indiana State Prison. The application was signed by Ms.
Watson and stated that she was his sister. Visitation records
showed that Ms. Watson visited Crews at Indiana State Prison
four times between 2010 and 2012. Upon discovering that
information, one of the investigators asked Ms. Watson
“who Offender Crews was.” [DE 92-2]. She replied
that she did not know. He asked her again whether she knew
who Crews was, and she replied “no.” Id.
Records further showed that Crews was suspected of
trafficking cell phones into the facility and had recently
been found in possession of a contraband cell phone.
Internal Affairs investigators concluded their investigation
at that point. They concluded that they were unable to
substantiate the initial reports about Ms. Watson's
statements about trafficking. However, they concluded that
Ms. Watson had falsified her employment application and
failed to fully disclose her relationship to an inmate, as
she identified her brother as Victor Blissitt and denied
knowing Crews. On December 18, 2014, the warden met with Ms.
Watson and terminated her employment. The termination letter
stated that Ms. Watson was fired because her “actions
[did] not meet agency standards and [were]
unacceptable.” [DE 92-3]. The warden asserts that he
terminated Ms. Watson's employment “because she
failed to disclose in her employment application that her
brother, Victor Crews, is incarcerated at [Indiana State
Prison].” [DE 92-1]. He asserted that he would
terminate the employment of any correctional officer who
failed to fully disclose the identity of a family member
incarcerated at the facility, since that not only
demonstrates dishonesty, but may also suggest an improper
Watson later filed this suit against IDOC. She initially
represented herself, but the Court granted her motion to
recruit counsel, so she is now ably represented. Discovery
has closed, and IDOC moved for summary judgment.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
judgment is proper when the movant shows that 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 “material” fact is one identified by the
substantive law as affecting the outcome of the suit.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). A “genuine issue” exists with respect to
any material fact when “the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Id. Where a factual record taken as a
whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the
non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial, and
summary judgment should be granted. Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587
(1986) (citing Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Servs. Co.,
391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)). In determining whether a genuine
issue of material fact exists, this Court must construe all
facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and
draw all reasonable and justifiable inferences in that
party's favor. Jackson v. Kotter, 541 F.3d 688,
697 (7th Cir. 2008); King v. Preferred Tech. Grp.,
166 F.3d 887, 890 (7th Cir. 1999). However, the non-moving
party cannot simply rest on the allegations contained in its
pleadings but must present sufficient evidence to show the
existence of each element of its case on which it will bear
the burden at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Robin v. Espo Eng'g
Corp., 200 F.3d 1081, 1088 (7th Cir. 2000).
Watson's complaint suggested that she was asserting
claims for race and sex discrimination in violation of Title
VII. The Indiana Department of Correction moved for summary
judgment on both claims. In response, Ms. Watson only defends
her claim for sex discrimination. The Court thus construes
her as abandoning any claim for race discrimination. For many
of the same reasons discussed below, though, the record
contains no evidence to support a claim for race
discrimination, so summary judgment would be warranted on the
merits as well.
VII prohibits an employer from discriminating based on an
individual's “race, color, religion, sex, or
national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). A Title
VII claim requires a plaintiff to show (1) they are a member
of a class protected by the statute; (2) they have
experienced an adverse employment action; and (3) the
employer took this adverse action because of the
plaintiff's membership in the protected class. Abrego
v. Wilkie, 907 F.3d 1004, 1012 (7th Cir. 2018). The
parties do not dispute that Ms. Watson is a member of a
protected class and that she was subject to an adverse