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Craig Bunton v. City of Zion

October 15, 2012

CRAIG BUNTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF ZION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. Holderman, Chief Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Craig Bunton's First Amended Complaint (Dkt. No. 8) alleges that the City of Zion is liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e to 2000e-17, for creating a hostile work environment and wrongfully terminating him on the basis of race, black, and for retaliating against him because of his complaints about racial discrimination. Currently pending before the court is the City's motion for summary judgment on all counts. (Dkt. No. 33.) For the reasons explained below, that motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Craig Bunton was hired as a police officer with the Zion Police Department on January 5, 2001. (Dkt. No. 35 ("Def.'s SMF") ¶ 1.) In or around 2008, one of Bunton's fellow police officers, David Gort, used the word "nigger" as he told a story in Bunton's presence about a person who walked up to some police officers who were beating a black person. (Dkt. No. 42 ("Pl.'s SMF") ¶ 17.) Gort related that the person said to the police officers, "[d]amn, ya'll beating that nigger's ass." (Id.) Gort also told a story in which a black individual approached a police officer who was working security at a carnival and asked him if "[y]ou all looking for a black guy to beat up?" (Id. ¶ 18.) The officer responded, "Yeah and you are the black guy we're going to beat up." (Id.) Bunton stated that Gort was telling the stories in a lighthearted tone to be funny.*fn1 (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 18.) Bunton testified that he complained about the incidents to Wayne Brooks, the Deputy Chief of Police, on April 7, 2008, although Brooks denied that Bunton did so. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 20.) Bunton testified that Brooks responded by stating "[w]ell, you don't want to create even more animosity by making this into a big deal, you know, filing a formal complaint, and so you know, it'd probably be best just to let it be." (Id. ¶ 20.)

While on patrol on November 7, 2009, Bunton deployed his taser against an individual whom he had stopped. The incident, which is caught on video from Bunton's squad car (Id. ¶ 42; see also Dkt. No. 35, Ex. I.), started with Bunton questioning an individual who he saw walking on the street instead of in the sidewalk. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 15.) While questioning the individual, Bunton saw a car pass playing its car stereo. (Id.) Bunton judged that the car was emitting excessive noise, and entered his squad car to give chase. (Id.) Bunton disregarded a stop sign and at times reached speeds between 59 and 68 m.p.h., enabling him to catch up to the car, which had stopped in an ally behind the house of the driver, Darrell Lynch. (Id.) As Bunton's car pulled up, Lynch exited his vehicle. (Id.) Bunton then told Lynch four times to get back in his vehicle, but Lynch did not comply and instead shut the car door. (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 42.) Lynch then took a stall step forward and said "Man, you better go somewhere, Dude." (Id.) Bunton continued to tell Lynch to get back in the car, but Lynch instead put his car keys in his pocket and leaned backward against the car door. (Id.) Lynch then said, "Man, I'm standing here dude."*fn2 (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 42.) Bunton then told Lynch that he was under arrest and ordered him to put his hands behind his back. Lynch then said "I'm not under arrest" and raised his hands. (Id.) Bunton responded by deploying his taser, causing Lynch to fall to the ground. (Id.) Bunton discharged the taser multiple times giving Lynch successive electrical charges for a total of seventeen seconds, more than three times the normal discharge. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 15.)

In response to the Lynch incident, Larry Booth, the Chief of the Zion Police Department, filed charges against Bunton on February 15, 2010, with the City of Zion Board of Fire and Police Commissioners (the "Board"), seeking Bunton's termination.*fn3 (Def.'s SMF ¶¶ 11, 17.) Both Deputy Chief Wayne Brooks and Lieutenant Kirk Henderson recommended that Booth file the charges seeking Bunton's termination. (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 27.) Booth explained that he decided to seek Bunton's termination because of Bunton's disciplinary record, which included another violation for improper use of force at a Walmart six months previously. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 17.) In that incident of May 25, 2009, which was caught on the store's video, Bunton and his partner responded to a complaint that an individual had passed out in the vestibule at the Zion Walmart. (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 35; see also Dkt. No. 35, Ex. H.) After several minutes of speaking to the individual, Bunton began escorting the individual off of the premises. The individual pulled his arm away from Bunton several times, swinging it backward away from Bunton and once trying to swing at Bunton.*fn4 (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 37.) In response Bunton forcibly pushed the individual to the ground. (Id.) The individual was unable to break his fall and so hit his head on the sidewalk, drawing blood. (Id.; Def.'s SMF ¶ 9.) Bunton received a five-day suspension for his actions. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 8.)

After a full evidentiary hearing held intermittently from March 2, 2010, until September 1, 2010, the Board unanimously voted Bunton guilty of the charges related to the Lynch incident. (Id.

¶ 19.) The Board then voted two to one in favor of terminating Bunton. (Id.) Bunton appealed the decision of the Board to the Circuit Court of Lake County, which affirmed the decision.*fn5 (Def.'s SMF ¶¶ 21, 22.)

LEGAL STANDARD

A grant of summary judgment is proper "if 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). "There is no genuine issue of material fact when no reasonable jury could find in favor of the nonmoving party." Brewer v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ill., 479 F.3d 908, 915 (7th Cir. 2007). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must consider the facts before it in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, drawing all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor. McCann v. Iroquois Mem'l Hosp., 622 F.3d 745, 752 (7th Cir. 2010). The court does not make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence. McCann v. Iroquois Mem'l Hosp., 622 F.3d 745, 752 (7th Cir. 2010).

ANALYSIS

The City has moved for summary judgment on Bunton's claims that the City terminated him because he is black and created a hostile work environment for him as a black employee. In addition, the City contends that it is entitled to summary judgment on Bunton's claim of retaliation. The court will address each argument in turn.

I. Termination

Title VII forbids "an employer . . . to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race." 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-2(a)(1). A plaintiff may avoid summary judgment in either of two ways. First, he may present "direct or circumstantial evidence that could permit a reasonable jury to conclude that the employer acted with discriminatory intent, often called the 'direct' method of proof." Brewer v. Bd. of Trustees of Univ. of Ill., 479 F.3d 908, 915 (7th Cir. 2007). Alternatively, the plaintiff may use the burden-shifting method of McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 ...


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