Female officer’s retaliation and discrimination claims permitted to go forward against Louisiana State University.

Haire v. Louisiana State University Agricultural and Mechanical College,  No. 12-30290 (5th Cir. May 21, 2013)

This is a gender discrimination case where Haire was a female major at the Louisiana State University (“LSU”) police department and alleges she was not promoted to chief and was subject to harassment and retaliation after filing an EEOC complaint. The trial court granted LSU’s summary judgment motion dismissing her claims and she appealed.  The Fifth Circuit reversed stating factual disputes exist making summary judgment premature.

The court went through a lengthy rendition of the facts; however, the main factual elements for this summary are that Haire competed for the vacant police chief position against a male officer, Rabalais, who had made derogatory comments about women and ultimately lost out to him.  Prior to Rabalais’ appointment, LSU’s public safety director, Durham, was appointed interim chief.  At one point prior to the LSU Chancellor’s selection of Rabalais as chief, Durham ordered Haire to disclose information about a former LSU Dean Carolyn Collins, a high-profile figure on campus.  Haire complied but was later told the disclosure was against department policy and was subject to discipline she claims cost her the promotion. The trial court granted  LSU’s summary judgment, dismissed Haire’s discrimination claim based on no evidence of pretext and her retaliation claim based on the fact it was the Chancellor, not anyone in the PD, who decided who to promote.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held Haire made out a prima facie claim for discrimination, LSU offered a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the lack of promotion, but Haire presented a factual dispute precluding summary judgment as to pretext. In relation to the retaliation claim, the court noted that while the Chancellor selected the chief, a fact issue exhisted as to whether he took into account Rabalais comments, investigation, and discipline of Haire essentially allowing Rabalais to influence the decision.  This is commonly referred to as the “cat’s paw” theory of liability based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Staub v. Proctor Hospital, 131 S. Ct. 1186, 1193 (2011).  The court reversed and remanded.

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