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Cops Race Discrimination Title VII and Sec.1983 Claims Survive

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on October 28, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Sergeant Kyll Lavalais worked for the Village of Melrose Park Police Department for over twenty years. Of about 75 officers, he was the only African-American officer in the department. In 2010, feeling he was being discriminated against, he filed a complaint with the EEOC. In January 2011, he filed another claim with the EEOC claiming he was retaliated against for making the initial claim the year before.

One month later, Lavalais was made a sergeant and assigned to the midnight shift. He served in this position for one year and two months, and then requested a different shift, which the police chief denied. The third time was the charm, and in July 2012, after filing a third claim with the EEOC, he was given a right-to-sue letter.

Sgt. Lavalais sued the Village of Melrose Park and the Chief of Police for racial discrimination and retaliation for filing an EEOC claim, and violation of the protections of the Equal Protection Clause. The defendants moved to dismiss the claims for failure to state a claim, and the district court granted the motion.

42 U.S.C § 1983 Equal Protection Claim

The Seventh Circuit found that the district court erred in two regards in dismissing the § 1983 claim. First, the court got it wrong as far as what Lavalais would have to allege to state a claim. Second, the court incorrectly applied the class-of-one doctrine, instead of simply looking at it as a race discrimination claim.

Title VII Retaliation Claim

The Seventh Circuit summarily affirmed the district court's dismissal of the retaliation claims, as they were time-barred.

Title VII Racial Discrimination Claim

The court spent most of its time discussing Lavalais' Title VII race discrimination claim and had to determine two things: (1) whether he dropped his denial of transfer claim; and if not (2) whether the denial of transfer was an action that adversely affected his employment.

First, the court noted that although Lavalais amended his complaint, he "clearly maintained a denial of transfer claim, ... and the claim "was within the scope of the 2012 EEOC charge." Finding that the claim was properly before the court, the Seventh Circuit found that Lavalais sufficiently plead the denial of transfer claim was a materially adverse employment action because he alleged that he was "powerless" and was not able to perform the leadership duties that other officers in his position normally would.

The Seventh Circuit remanded the case for trial on the Title VII race discrimination claim. We're curious to see how this turns out, as the Seventh Circuit seems to be a hotbed for Title VII claims lately.

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