7th Circuit: Fired black sheriff’s deputy can proceed with discrimination lawsuit

FILE - Terrance McKinney, 29, is suing the Whitley County Sheriff's Department for racial discrimination.

CHICAGO (WANE) – A former Whitley County sheriff’s deputy will be allowed to continue his discrimination lawsuit, after a ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tuesday, the 7th Circuit reversed a decision by the District Court of Northern Indiana that found in favor of the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department and against former deputy Terrance McKinney.

McKinney was hired as the department’s first black officer in Aug. 2013 and fired in May 2014. Then-sheriff Mark Hodges terminated McKinney citing three violations of employment standards.

McKinney claimed as a deputy he was treated differently than other white colleagues. The 7th Circuit said, in overturning the District Courts ruling of summary judgment for the sheriff, that McKinney provided, “…substantial documentary and testimonial evidence…” to support his claim of racial discrimination. The 7th Circuit said the District Court ignored most of McKinney’s evidence, but relied heavily on an affidavit by the former sheriff.

McKinney was fired for such items as improperly using a county-issued gas card and filing wrong work hours, according to court documents. McKinney claimed some white colleagues wouldn’t train him and one deputy even used the “n-word” in front of him.

7th Circuit Judge David Hamilton wrote the opinion overturning the lower courts ruling of summary judgment. Hamilton said, “…the district court abused its discretion in failing to fully consider his evidence.”

The scathing opinion also refuted the eventual eight reasons McKinney was terminated (the sheriff’s department submitted three more reasons once McKinney filed his initial discrimination lawsuit). Hamilton wrote that McKinney provided ample evidence that he had been subject to department standards or procedures that didn’t exist or weren’t communicated to him properly.

The 7th Circuit ruled McKinney’s evidence added up to a strong racial discrimination case.

The three-judge decision allows McKinney’s lawsuit to return to the lower court for a jury trial.