The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today
preserved a lawsuit against the secretary of state and Darrell Hedden, chief of the Capitol police
, over an officer's firing.
Richard Burton, who is black, alleges that he was a victim of race discrimination and retaliation when he was fired in 2010 (this was before Mark Martin took office; he is named a defendant in his official capacity). The 8th Circuit denied the state's request that the case be dismissed and also reversed a lower court ruling giving qualified immunity to Hedden. It ordered further proceedings. We've written about this case before.
The decision recounts Burton's complaint of repeat use of racial epithets by an officer with whom Burton worked. Burton said he had been warned:
Chief Hedden offered Burton the officer position in a meeting with Sergeant David Huggs. During the meeting, Chief Hedden advised Burton that he would be working the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift with Officer Norman Gomillion, Assistant Chief Theo Pierce, and Officer Danny Winters, all white males. According to Burton, Chief Hedden told Burton that this "shift was full of rednecks" and "from time to time they may say some things that may be offensive" to Burton. Chief Hedden instructed Burton to come see him "if they did anything that bothered [Burton]."
Burton complained about remarks made by Gomillion.
Burton alleges that Officer Gomillion often used racial epithets in [employee Robin] Lang's presence,expressing his dislike for African Americans and his view that whites were superior to blacks. Lang and Burton worked the same shift and discussed Officer Gomillion's comments. When Officer Gomillion saw Lang with two African-American males,
Lang claims that Officer Gomillion said, "[Y]ou don't do that n****r thing, do you[?]" When Lang asked Officer Gomillion what he meant, he replied, "[Y]ou don't do that n****r thing, you don't date n****rs, do you?" Lang also claims that Officer Gomillion "referred to [President] Obama at that time as being the n****r in the office that was going to bring the United State[s] down." According to Lang, she often considered reporting Officer Gomillion but felt like she would be wasting her time.
Hedden met with Gomillion and wrote him a letter cautioning him about use of derogatory language. Burton, who was hired in mid-2009, got pay raises in December of that year and again in February. Later in February, Burton said Gommillion threw keys at him. He complained, but said Assistant Chief Larry Robinson told him, "if y'all stop aggravating [Officer Gomillion], this stuff wouldn't happen." Burton was later fired for being late to work (he said he'd overslept after working another job) and for being late filing an accident report (he argued he had to first learn how to use the reporting system). Burton claimed white officers with worse records hadn't been fired.