A former employee of the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office failed to produce sufficient evidence of race discrimination to survive summary judgment. Such was the determination of Judge O’Grady of the Eastern District of Virginia, who entered summary judgment in favor of Arlington Sheriff Beth Arthur.
The case had been brought by former Inmate Services Counsel Robert Currie. Currie, an African-American male, alleged that he was racially discriminated against in 2009, when: (1) a watermelon was left on his desk by an African-American co-worker; (2) a Caucasian deputy made the statement “[t]here goes the neighborhood” on several occasions when Currie approached him; and (3) a Latino supply assistant referred to Currie as “boy” when addressing him.
Currie filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming that he was discriminated against and was placed on probation in 2009 in retaliation for the fact that his lawyer had written to the Sherriff’s Office after the watermelon incident. The EEOC issued a Notice of Right to Sue in 2011. Two months later, Currie was terminated by Sheriff Arthur, allegedly as a result of an investigation that found that Currie violated policy, made false statements, treated an inmate unprofessionally, and retaliated against inmates.
To survive summary judgment, a plaintiff claiming hostile work environment based on race discrimination must show the existence of harassment that was (1) unwelcome; (2) based on race; (3) sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms of employment and create an abusive atmosphere; and (4) imputable on some factual basis to his employer. A Title VII claim also arises where a plaintiff can demonstrate that he was retaliated against by his employer, by showing a causal link between an adverse employment action taken against him and a protected activity in which he engaged. A defendant can rebut a presumption of retaliation if she had a non-retaliatory reason for the adverse employment action.
The court found that Mr. Currie failed to prove his case, as the court was unconvinced that any of the three events were racially motivated. The watermelon incident involved three other African-Americans, the deputy’s statement was not racial on its face, and the Latino supply assistant greeted all co-workers as “boy.” Moreover, even if these incidents could be interpreted as racially based, any perceived discrimination would not be imputed to Arthur because all three incidents were investigated and stopped. Finally, because the events took place a few times over the course of only five months, the harassment would not be deemed to be sufficiently pervasive.