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Mollet v. City of Greenfield

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 13, 2019

James A. Mollet, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
City of Greenfield, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued May 23, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 2:16-cv-01145-LA - Lynn Adelman, Judge.

          Before Bauer, Manion, and Brennan, Circuit Judges.

          Bauer, Circuit Judge.

         In this case we must decide whether James Mollet's complaint about a racially charged incident was the but-for cause of his constructive discharge. For the reasons below, we answer in the negative and affirm the decision of the district court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         James Mollet began working as a firefighter for the Greenfield Fire Department in 1995. The Greenfield Fire Department had three eight-hour shifts each day and one battalion chief supervised each. Mollet rose through the ranks of the fire department and became a battalion chief in 2009.

         In November 2011, John Cohn was appointed chief of the department and George Weber assistant chief. Mollet and Cohn were friendly before he was appointed chief, but following the appointment phone calls and text messages between the two ceased. The relationship was further strained because Mollet felt Cohn's actions as chief were inconsistent with the vision for the department Mollet and Cohn discussed prior to Cohn's promotion.

         With that we move to the incident that underpins the theory of Mollet's case. At the end of each shift firefighters stow their gear and bedding and when one fails to do so, other firefighters sometimes prank the offender. On February 17, 2012, firefighter Cesar Hernandez forgot to stow some of his gear. The firefighters in the following shift hung the items from the ceiling and posted a paper sign with a Mexican flag printed on it with the words "Border Patrol" written beneath it. Hernandez did not file a complaint after the incident, but another firefighter who found the incident discriminatory reported it to her superior officer, who reported the incident to Mollet.

         Mollet emailed Cohn and Weber later that evening and informed them of the incident. Weber replied:

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I agree with you 100% that this crosses the line of firehouse hazing. Could you do some investigating into this incident and report any findings back to me. This type of behavior should not and will not be tolerated. Please let me know what you find out.

         Mollet indicated he would rather not investigate the incident himself, but Cohn emailed that Mollet should investigate because Cohn did not want to hand the issue over to those under whose watch it may have occurred.

         An individual eventually took responsibility for the incident and four individuals were disciplined - one lost a day of vacation and three received verbal reprimands.

         In the following months Cohn and Weber were critical of Mollet's performance. In March 2012, a month after the incident, Cohn and Weber criticized Mollet's performance in checking off probationary firefighters on certain tasks. On April 12, 2012, Weber sent an email critical of Mollet's leadership skills. The following day, Weber informed Mollet that he would be taking over the lead on rapid intervention team training. Mollet was later removed from his position ...


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