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King v. Hardesty, No. 06-4163 (8th Cir. Feb. 29, 2008)


You may have a little trouble locating this plaintiffs' victory from the Eighth Circuit, King v. Hardesty, No. 06-4163 (8th Cir. Feb. 29, 2008), because its website software doesn't seem to recognize leap-day (no 2/29 cases pop-up under February 2008).

It's a direct evidence case, alleging that the white administrator of the Bearfield school (defendant Hardesty) discriminated and retaliated against a black substitute teacher (plaintiff King) by terminating her and denying her homebound instructor assignments. The intensity of Hardesty's feelings found voice in a string of racial epithets targeted at the plaintiff (according to the summary judgment record):

"Within three days of beginning her employment at Bearfield, Hardesty began making racial remarks to King. Among other things, King claims that Hardesty: (1) asked King if she had white in her blood because she was light-skinned; (2) told King that his family had been slaveholders; (3) told King that 'white people teach black kids, African-American students, better than someone from their own race'; (4) asked King how she felt about the word 'nigger' and used the word in King's presence; (5) asked King if she dated white males and said 'once you go black, you never go back'; (6) told racial jokes in the office; (7) referred to African-American male employees as 'big black bucks' and 'my boys'; (8) referred to African-American students as 'slaves,' 'crack babies,' and 'ghetto kids'; (9) used the words 'ho' and 'whore' to refer to female African-American students; and (10) made racially derogatory statements about the parents of African-American students. King was offended by Hardesty's comments and asked him, on multiple occasions, to refrain from making such comments, but Hardesty would respond: 'I can run this school any way I want to'; 'no one questions my actions because I am the administrator'; or 'I can run [Bearfield] any damn way I please.'"

Though the district court somehow managed to avoid finding a triable issue of fact in this welter of racial invective, the Eighth Circuit reversed in part. In particular, regarding King's termination, "we conclude that Hardesty's statement . . . that 'white people teach black kids . . . better than someone from their own race,' is evidence that may be viewed as directly reflecting Hardesty's alleged discriminatory attitude. With such evidence, the factfinder could find that a discriminatory attitude was more likely than not a motivating factor in Hardesty's decisions because Hardesty may believe white teachers on the basis of their race would do a better job than King, an African-American."

The plaintiff also complained that the district court granted summary judgment even on issues that the employer had not raised. But here, the court finally helped the defendant out, affirming summary judgment for failure to give her a pay raise. "The defendants did not raise King's ineligibility in the text of their motion for summary judgment or the memorandum in support of the motion. But, the affidavits incorporated in defendants' motion addressed King's nonqualification for the long-term substitute pay. The affidavits thus provided King adequate notice and an opportunity to respond to the argument that she had failed to establish that element of her prima facie case."

On the other hand, "[a]s to King's claim regarding the denial of fellowship opportunities, the District made no mention of the claim anywhere in its motion for summary judgment, memorandum in support of the motion, or any affidavit filed with the memorandum in support. Therefore, it was improper for the district court to grant summary judgment on this claim, and we will reverse."

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