Heath v. Indianapolis Fire Department, No. 17-2564 (7th Cir. 2018)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Quinn applied to become an Indianapolis firefighter. He passed the written examination, oral interview, and Certified Physical Agility Test and was placed on a ranked list for hiring consideration. The Department hired two academy classes from that ranked list, but Quinn was not selected. Quinn’s father (Rodney) filed a qui tam suit under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3730(h)(1), alleging that the Department had made false statements of material fact to the federal government in order to receive federal grant funds. Rodney was a backup investigator in the Department’s arson unit. Quinn joined his father’s suit, alleging that the Department retaliated against him for his father’s complaint. The district court granted the Department summary judgment on Quinn’s retaliation claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Quinn was ranked, at best, five spots too low to receive an automatic selection and every discretionary pick in both classes had more markers than Quinn, consistent with the Department’s policy for discretionary selections. There is no evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Rodney’s suit was even a motivating factor in the decision not to hire Quinn. Even assuming that the meaning of “employee” under section 3730(h) is could encompass job applicants, there are no facts from which a jury could conclude that Quinn was retaliated against because of his father’s suit.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 17 2564 QUINN R. HEATH, Plaintiff Appellant, v. INDIANAPOLIS FIRE DEPARTMENT, Defendant Appellee. ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 1:15 cv 425 JMS MJD — Jane E. Magnus Stinson, Chief Judge. ____________________ ARGUED FEBRUARY 21, 2018 — DECIDED MAY 9, 2018 ____________________ Before RIPPLE, KANNE, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges. KANNE, Circuit Judge. In January 2015, Quinn Heath ap plied to become an Indianapolis firefighter. Over the next four months, he passed the Indianapolis Fire Department’s written examination, oral interview, and Certified Physical Agility Test. Quinn’s performance during the application process led to his placement on a ranked list for hiring consideration. The Department hired two academy classes in 2015 from that ranked list, but Quinn was not selected for either class. 2 No. 17 2564 Meanwhile, Quinn’s father—Rodney Heath—filed a qui tam suit under the False Claims Act against the Indianapolis Fire Department, alleging that the Department had made false statements of material fact to the federal government in order to receive federal grant funds. At the time, Rodney was a backup investigator in the Department’s arson unit. The same day that Quinn found out he had not been selected for the second academy class, the Department’s Deputy Chief told several Department employees they needed to be inter viewed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in con nection with Rodney’s suit. Thereafter, Quinn joined his father’s suit, alleging that the Department retaliated against him for his father’s complaint, in violation of the False Claims Act. Quinn’s retaliation claim alleges that he was not hired as an Indianapolis firefighter be cause of his father’s suit. The district court granted summary judgment to the Indi anapolis Fire Department on Quinn’s retaliation claim. Quinn now appeals that decision. We review the district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the record in the light most favorable to Quinn. Austin v. Walgreen Co., 885 F.3d 1085, 1087 (7th Cir. 2018). We may affirm summary judgment on any ground sup ported by the record as long as the issue was adequately raised below and the nonmoving party had an opportunity to contest it. See West Side Salvage, Inc. v. RSUI Indem. Co., 878 F.3d 219, 222 (7th Cir. 2017). For the reasons that follow, we affirm. No. 17 2564 3 I. ANALYSIS The False Claims Act protects whistleblowers from retali ation, providing that “[a]ny employee … shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make that employee … whole, if that employee … is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or … discriminated against in the terms and condi tion of employment because of lawful acts done by the em ployee … or associated others” in furtherance of a False Claims Act action. 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h)(1) (2010); see also § 3730(h)(2) (describing relief under (h)(1)). The district court’s dismissal of Quinn’s claim turned on its conclusion that the False Claims Act’s anti retaliation pro visions do not cover job applicants or prospective employees. This court has not yet addressed that issue, and we decline to do so now. Even assuming that § 3730(h)’s definition of “em ployee” is broad enough to encompass job applicants or pro spective employees, the Indianapolis Fire Department would still be entitled to summary judgment. Section 3730(h)(1) re quires that Quinn show he was retaliated against because of his father’s protected activity, and he cannot do so. Recent authority raises a question about what causation standard Quinn must meet to show that he was retaliated against because of his father’s protected activity. In Fanslow v. Chicago Manufacturing Center, Inc., relying in part on Title VII principles, we noted that False Claims Act complainants can establish that they were retaliated against because of pro tected activity by demonstrating that the retaliation was mo tivated “at least in part” by the protected activity. 384 F.3d 469, 485 (7th Cir. 2004). Nearly ten years post Fanslow, the Su preme Court held that Title VII retaliation claims require 4 No. 17 2564 but for causation, rather than the lesser mixed motive stand ard of causation we described in Fanslow. Univ. of Tex. Sw. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar, 570 U.S. 338, 360 (2013). We have not yet revis ited Fanslow to extend Nassar’s Title VII holding to § 3730(h)(1), though the similarity of the two provisions might give us reason to do so in a future case. See United States ex rel. King v. Solvay Pharm., Inc., 871 F.3d 318, 333 (5th Cir. 2017) (noting that the False Claims Act requires but for cau sation). But the causation standard makes no difference here. Under any standard, there is no evidence—even when con struing the facts in Quinn’s favor—from which a jury could conclude that the Department did not hire Quinn because of his father’s qui tam suit. Applicants to the Indianapolis Fire Department are placed on a ranked hiring list according to their scores on various merit based metrics. Under a local ordinance governing the Department’s hiring, eighty percent of an academy class is to be filled in rank order, starting with the top candidate on the list. Then, the fire chief can exercise his discretion to fill the remaining twenty percent of the class. The Department has also established selection criteria that guide the fire chief’s dis cretionary picks, preferencing applicants with two or more of the following “markers”: “racial minority, female gender, col lege degree, fire training or experience, and legacy” (meaning a family member is a current or former member of the Depart ment). (Appellant’s Br. at 3.) Applicants receive the college de gree marker only if they earned a degree; they do not receive the marker if they have simply accumulated college credit without earning a degree. No. 17 2564 5 To survive summary judgment, Quinn needed to demon strate either (1) that he should have been an automatic selec tion for an academy class and he was not, or (2) that the chief exhausted two marker applicants for discretionary selections and still did not select Quinn. Only then could a reasonable trier of fact have any evidence from which to conclude that Rodney’s qui tam suit motivated, at least in part, the Depart ment’s decision not to hire Quinn. At best, Quinn was ranked 64th on the hiring list. (Appel lant’s Br. at 5, 30 (citing R. 84 4).) And he had one marker— legacy—because of his father’s employment at the Depart ment. Though Quinn had 66 hours of college credit, he never earned a degree, and thus did not receive that marker. Quinn did not receive an automatic or discretionary selection to ei ther of the two academy classes chosen in 2015. The fire chief selected 30 applicants from the list for the first academy class. The first 24 were hired in rank order. At 64th, Quinn did not receive an automatic selection. Then, 6 spots remained for the chief’s discretionary picks. All 6 spots were filled by applicants with two or more markers, and 3 of those spots were filled by applicants ranking ahead of Quinn. Given that 27 applicants ranked ahead of Quinn were se lected for the first class, Quinn’s ranking improved to, at best, 37th for the second class. The chief planned to fill the second academy class with 40 applicants from the list. The chief filled the first 29 spots in the class in rank order. He then filled the remaining 11 spots with discretionary selections, all of which had two or more mark ers. More than 10 two marker applicants still remained on the list who were not selected for an academy class. It appears an 6 No. 17 2564 automatic selection withdrew from the hiring process after the selections were finalized, and the chief did not replace her, leaving the second academy class at 39 recruits. If the chief was following the Department’s 80/20 rule based on a 40 recruit class, he should have picked 32 appli cants as automatic selections. But even if the chief had picked 32 automatic selections, Quinn would not have been an auto matic selection ranked at 37th. And selecting 8, rather than 11, discretionary picks would have similarly had no impact on Quinn’s chances, particularly because a large pool of two marker applicants still remained after the chief filled both academy classes. In sum, Quinn was ranked, at best, five spots too low to receive an automatic selection to an academy class. And every discretionary pick in both classes had more markers than Quinn, consistent with the Department’s policy for discretion ary selections. Thus, there is no evidence from which a rea sonable jury could conclude that Rodney’s suit was even a motivating factor in the decision not to hire Quinn. II. CONCLUSION Quinn’s retaliation claim against the Indianapolis Fire De partment raises a complicated question about the scope of the False Claims Act’s anti retaliation provisions. We need not re solve that question in this case, however. Even assuming that the meaning of “employee” under § 3730(h) is broad enough to encompass job applicants or prospective employees, there are no facts from which a jury could conclude that Quinn was retaliated against because of his father’s qui tam suit. The district court’s judgment in favor of the Indianapolis Fire Department on Quinn’s retaliation claim is AFFIRMED.

Primary Holding

Job applicant did not establish that fire department's failure to hire him was retaliation for his father's qui tam suit.

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