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Prison officer's harassment claims fail before 7th Circuit

The Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled in favor of the state of Indiana in a case that provides an overview of employment discrimination law. The plaintiff in the case alleged that she had been discriminated against based on her gender and national origin while she worked for the Indiana Department of Corrections. She also alleged that her working conditions constituted a hostile work environment.

The plaintiff, a U.S. citizen of French origin, began working for the Department of Corrections in 2008. She gained status as a permanent employee in May 2009. In April 2011, she was sexually harassed by an inmate and requested leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. While on leave, she filed notice and terminated her employment.

The woman claimed that she had been subjected to sexually offensive remarks during training and that the training officer ceased training her when she complained. She claimed that she had experienced three specific instances of discriminatory adverse employment action. She said she was denied training, evaluated unfairly and denied a request for transfer to a different prison. The court concluded that her claims of disparate treatment must fail because the employment actions referenced could not be deemed adverse based on the offered proof.

The court granted summary judgment for the state on the hostile environment claims as well. The plaintiff alleged harassment only on the part of her coworkers, and an employer is liable for such conduct only if it is negligent in responding to the harassment; the harassment quickly stopped after each complaint.

In a gender discrimination case like this one, a plaintiff may be defeated on summary judgment if the pleadings and evidence are insufficient to support any claims. An employment law attorney could help a plaintiff gather and organize testimony and documentary evidence or otherwise prepare the case for trial.

Source: The National Law Review, "7th Circuit affirms Plaintiff Failed to Show Adverse Employment Action - Recent Development in the Courts", August 11, 2014

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