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Posner Not Impressed by Police Employment Discrimination Case

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By Peter Clarke, JD on June 10, 2015 6:34 PM

Racial discrimination in the workplace often results in grievances that are sad or even painful to hear about. That wasn't the case with the discrimination case brought by police sergeant Michael Miller. In writing his decision, Judge Posner didn't seem too impressed with Miller's list of grievances.

Miller held a stable position in a detective bureau in Indiana. In 2010, he ran unsuccessfully for Sheriff. He subsequently asked the new sheriff if he could be appointed as warden of the county jail or assistant chief of the police department. When he was passed over for these positions, his situations went from bad to worse.

...Or, something like that. Miller was instructed to oversee his department's "property room" (a project he wasn't crazy about), but otherwise his position, title, and wages remained the same.

Posner's New Analysis for Employment Discrimination

Referring to the district court judge's employment discrimination test as "cumbersome," Judge Posner uses a simplified version, requiring that:

  1. The plaintiff is a member of a protected class and suffered some adverse action.
  2. The employer brought about the adverse action because the plaintiff belongs to the protected class.

(Posner emphasized that his reference to this test doesn't in any way affect the Supreme Court precedent of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green.)

Applying this test to Miller's case, the court found the first part of the test satisfied: Miller is a member of a protected class (he's black) and he suffered because he wasn't offered the promotions he asked for and was arguably demoted. But did the employer bring about these adverse actions because Miller was black? The court couldn't find any evidence of this.

No Unlawful Discrimination

The court was looking for a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination. If that could be shown by the plaintiff, then the burden would be on the employer to show some nondiscriminatory reason for the alleged harms.

Instead, the court found no evidence of racial discrimination: no racial slurs, no special treatment, etc. There was no evidence that race was a factor in any decisions that were made. This was simply the case of an employee struggling in the context of a competitive job market.

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