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Lane v. Riverview Hospital

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 26, 2016

Chris P. Lane, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Riverview Hospital, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued June 10, 2015

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. l:13-cv-01113-TWP-TAB - Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge.

          Before Manion, Williams, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          Hamilton, Circuit Judge.

         Plaintiff Chris Lane sued River-view Hospital, his former employer, for race discrimination in terminating his employment as a security guard at the hospital. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant. We affirm.

         We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, and we give the non-moving party the benefit of conflicts in the evidence and of any inferences in his favor that might reasonably be drawn from the evidence. See Mintz v. Caterpillar Inc., 788 F.3d 673, 679 (7th Cir. 2015). Our account of the facts is filtered through that summary judgment lens.

         Lane is African American and began working as a security guard at Riverview Hospital in 1999. He had a successful employment record at the hospital, without any formal discipline until the event at the center of this lawsuit.

         In August 2012, a 17-year-old male autistic patient started hitting, swinging at, and kicking his caregivers. The situation had gotten so far out of hand that the health care professionals were afraid to approach the young man or to enter the room. A nurse summoned security.

         Lane responded and entered the room. He saw the patient kick one of the staff in the back. Lane then tried to restrain the patient, who tried to bite him and then spit in Lane's mouth. As the patient prepared to spit again, Lane slapped him in the face with his open palm, making "solid contact." The patient settled down and stopped swinging and kicking at Lane and the health care professionals in the room.

         After the incident, Lane completed a written report for the hospital explaining why he thought the slap was justified under the circumstances. He also filed a report with the Sheriff's Department, where he had status as a special deputy as a condition of his work for the hospital. The recipients of these reports concluded he had shown poor judgment and had overreacted without trying less violent steps to gain control of the situation. The Sheriff's Department actually sought to file a criminal assault charge against Lane, but the prosecutor declined to bring a charge.

         At the hospital, the outcome was different. Ann Kuzee, the hospital's director of human resources, also investigated the incident. Kuzee reviews and enforces Riverview's rules, policies, and procedures, and she becomes involved any time a supervisor proposes to discipline or fire an employee who is not a physician. Kuzee does not have the final say in whether to fire an employee. Her recommendations are presented to the Executive Steering Committee for decision.

         After confirming with Lane that he had in fact slapped the patient, Kuzee recommended that his employment be terminated. The hospital has a policy on restraints that prohibits "any form of restraint that is not medically necessary or is used as a means of coercion, discipline, convenience, or retaliation by staff, " and another policy prohibits acts or threats of violence. The Executive Steering Committee approved Ku-zee's recommendation on the condition that she consult the Sheriff's Department about whether the force used by Lane, a deputized officer, was appropriate. A major at the Sheriff's Department told Kuzee that he thought Lane's slap was not an appropriate use of force for the situation.

         The hospital told Lane that if he did not resign, he would be fired. He chose to resign a few days later. The district court treated the situation as a constructive discharge, and that point is not at issue in the appeal.

         After exhausting administrative remedies through a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Lane filed suit for race discrimination in employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. We analyze Title VII and § 1981 claims under the same framework. E.g., Whitfield v. Int'l Truck & Engine Corp., 755 F.3d 438, 442 (7th Cir. 2014).

         If that were the entire story, we would have an employer's disciplinary decision that would be well within an employer's discretion to make. The question is whether Lane offered enough additional evidence to ...

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