Taylor v. Ernst, No. 20-1411 (7th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Taylor was fired from his job as a Cook County Sheriff’s officer. He sued the Sheriff’s Office under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Ways, Whittler, and Ernst under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating the Equal Protection Clause. The defendants maintain that Taylor was terminated for having fired pellets with an air rifle at his neighbor, a charge that Taylor denies. Ernst was the lead investigator assigned to Taylor’s case. Taylor offered evidence that Ernst engineered his firing based on racial animosity. Taylor also asserted that Ways and Whittler, Sheriff’s Office officials, are liable because they reviewed Ernst’s final report and endorsed his recommendation of termination.
On interlocutory appeal, the Seventh Circuit upheld the denial of qualified immunity as to Ernst. Taylor presented evidence of Ernst’s significant role in the investigative and disciplinary proceedings that brought about Taylor’s termination. Any reasonable official in Ernst’s position would have known that intentional racial discrimination toward another employee was unconstitutional and what Taylor alleges against Ernst is textbook racial discrimination: the word “n****r,” used by Ernst, a white man, aimed at Taylor on several occasions. The court reversed the denials of qualified immunity to Ways and Whittler; evidence that they played key roles in approving Ernst’s termination does not signal that either harbored any racial animus or that they knew or suspected that Ernst was motivated by race. Taylor’s Title VII claim remains pending.