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Nichols v. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

May 17, 2006

DERRICK NICHOLS, BABATUNDE OWOSENI, DANIEL SMITH, AND AARON WATSON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY EDWARDSVILLE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Murphy, Chief District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Defendant Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University governing Southern Illinois University Edwardsville ("the University") has filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to take the remaining claims in this racial discrimination suit from a jury.*fn1 According to the University, there are no triable issues of fact, and it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A hearing was held on April 17, 2006, and after carefully considering all of the pleadings and the arguments of counsel, the Court agrees with the University.

BACKGROUND

The four plaintiffs in this action are current (Derrick Nichols and Aaron Watson) and former (Babatunde Owoseni and Daniel Smith) University police officers. They are African-American.

Owoseni and Smith were discharged in September 2003 by the State Universities Civil Service Merit Board ("the Merit Board") following an evidentiary hearing. The hearing was held to address charges leveled by the University, including making false statements about the Chief of Police and other command staff, and insubordination. Nichols and Watson remain employed with the University.

Plaintiffs claim that the University has racially discriminated against them. Their claims can be broken down into three categories:

1. Assignments: Plaintiffs claim they were disproportionately assigned to the University's East St. Louis campus because of their race.

2. Upgrades: Plaintiffs claim that "upgrades" in job assignments were given to two white police officers, Royston and Delmore, instead of them, again because of their race (Plaintiff Watson does not join in this claim).

3. Retaliation: Plaintiffs claim they were retaliated against for making complaints of racial discrimination.

DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

Summary judgment may be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). In considering a summary judgment motion, a court must review the entire record and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See NLFC, Inc. v. Devcom Mid-America, Inc., 45 F.3d 231, 234 (7th Cir. 1995); Enquip, Inc. v. Smith-McDonald Corp., 655 F.2d 115, 118 (7th Cir. 1981). On summary judgment a court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence, because these are tasks for a factfinder. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Betaco, Inc. v. Cessna Aircraft Co., 32 F.3d 1126, 1138 (7th Cir. 1994). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, "[t]he court has one task and one task only: to decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial." Waldridge v. American Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994).

"Title VII forbids certain employers 'to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of' his race." Little v. Illinois Dep't of Revenue, 369 F.3d 1007, 1011 (7th Cir. 2004)(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1)). The anti-retaliation provision also forbids employers from taking an adverse employment action against an employee for opposing discrimination. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a).

B. Direct Evidence

Plaintiffs assert that they have direct evidence of intentional discrimination. First, they claim that the Chief of Police admitted that he assigned them to the East St. Louis campus because they are African-American. They also claim that statistics prove that they were disproportionately assigned to the East St. Louis campus.

Disparate treatment "is the most easily understood type of discrimination." International Bhd. of Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 335 n.15 (1977). In such a case, "[t]he employer simply treats some people less favorably than others because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." Id. "Disparate treatment" claims are different from claims that stress "disparate impact." The latter claims "involve employment practices that are facially neutral in their treatment of different groups but that in fact fall more harshly on one group than another and cannot be justified by business necessity." Id. at 335. Proof of discriminatory motive is critical in "disparate treatment" cases; it is unnecessary in "disparate impact" cases. Id.

Plaintiffs' complaint pleads this case as one for disparate treatment. It alleges that the University "disproportionately assigned the black Officers to work the East St. Louis campus and the white Officers to work the Edwardsville campus, because of their race." (See Doc. 1, para. 17.) There is nothing in the complaint alleging facially neutral treatment that fell more harshly on African-Americans. Nichols, Owoseni, Smith, and Watson claim that they were assigned to work at the East St. Louis campus because of their race. This is a claim for disparate treatment, and Plaintiffs must prove a discriminatory motive. Stated differently, each plaintiff must prove that he was intentionally discriminated against by being treated differently because of the color of his skin. The statistics relied upon do not prove anything with respect to each individual claim of discrimination. There is no direct evidence in the record that Chief Harrison, the decisionmaker, assigned anyone to the East St. Louis campus based on his race.

Plaintiffs rely on Dan Smith's affidavit which attests that Chief Harrison said "that the administration at East St. Louis wanted to see more 'black faces' among the police force [at the East St. Louis campus]." (See Exhibit 3 to Doc. 53.) The University does not dispute that requests were made by administrators for more black officers at both campuses. But Plaintiffs have no evidence that Chief Harrison, the person making the assignment decisions, based his ...


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