Race-Based Hostile Work Environment Claim Survives Summary Judgment; Allegations Included Racially Disparaging Remarks; Disparate Discipline

In a recent case, Mingo v. The City of Mooresville, No. 5:22-CV-00032-KDB-SCR, 2023 WL 6120962 (W.D.N.C. Sept. 18, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s race-based hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From the decision:

Viewing the facts generously in the light most favorable to Plaintiff in the context of summary judgment, the Court finds that there may be evidence from which a jury could reasonably determine that the work environment at the MPD was sufficiently severe or pervasive as to alter the conditions of Mingo’s employment. In December 2017, Plaintiff was directed to participate in a wreath-laying event celebrating confederate soldiers. When Plaintiff expressed his reluctance to participate because of his family’s history with slavery, he was formally investigated by one of his superior officers for potentially violating “white people rights.” In his first EEOC Charge, filed six months after this event, Mingo stated that he had been subjected to discriminatory treatment on the basis of race throughout his employment. Also, as part of his response to this Motion, Plaintiff has stated that fellow officers targeted him with racially disparaging remarks about African American citizens, such as referring to them as “thugs and hoodlums.” Plaintiff alleges that such comments were repeatedly made in front of supervisors, who failed to act.

Moreover, Plaintiff was disciplined twice for conduct for which he says similarly situated white officers received no discipline. In November 2018, Mingo received a written reprimand for engaging in a verbal altercation at the MPD’s firearms range. One year earlier, when a similar incident occurred between an African American officer and a white officer, only the African American officer was disciplined. Then, in January 2019, Mingo met with HR to discuss his concerns that he was subject to race-based harassment and discrimination in retaliation for filing his first EEOC Charge. Less than two weeks later, Mingo was disciplined for his behavior in that meeting. His purportedly “objectionable” behavior included wearing his uniform and associated equipment, despite being directed to speak with HR by his supervisor while on duty, standing in the doorway of the HR office, speaking aggressively with a “hard tone of voice,” making constant eye contract with the HR representatives, and appearing visibly upset. Mingo has alleged that a white officer, whom he has specifically named, was not disciplined for similar behavior. In addition, although Plaintiff was investigated for expressing his discomfort participating in a ceremony concerning confederate soldiers, twelve other white officers were not disciplined for speaking with members of the media and making racially derogatory statements about members of the MPD, including the Chief of Police.

Further, Mingo testified that he was aware that other African American officers were repeatedly subjected to racial epithets and asked whether they or their friends were members of a gang. He was also aware of other African American officers, including one who came before this Court, who were punished more severely than white officers who had engaged in similar conduct. Mingo’s allegations do not appear to be mere conjecture. Plaintiff specifically alleges the names of the white officers, their particular misconduct, and details of the preferential treatment they received.

[Cleaned up.]

Based on this, the court concluded that “when viewing all the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, including all reasonable inferences, Plaintiff has met his burden of proffering sufficient evidence to avoid summary judgment on his claim that he was subject to a racially hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.”

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