CHICAGO (CN) - An Illinois police officer who repeatedly had sex with a barely legal teenager in his squad car and lied about his actions cannot bring racial discrimination charges, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Larry Hall Jr. joined the Flossmoor, Ill., police force in 2004. Hall served as a "liaison officer" providing security at a local high school.
In summer 2007, Hall began an affair with an 18-year-old student. Hall was married and in his 30s at the time.
When the student's father reported Hall two years later, investigators determined that the two did not have sex until the girl had turned 18 and graduated. Multiple witnesses testified nevertheless that Hall and the student had sex in his patrol while he was on duty.
Investigators also discovered that Hall had used the department's computer system to send inappropriate instant messages to his co-workers.
Hall "referred to a sergeant named Clint as 'clintoris,' and reported that another officer had been under the police chief's desk making 'gargling' sounds, and called Village residents 'Flossmorons,'" the 7th Circuit summarized.
The messages violated the department's prohibition using the computer system in a "manner that would tend to discredit" the department.
When interviewed, Hall admitted to having sex with the girl and sending the vulgar messages, but he denied roughly 12 times having sex in his patrol car or while on duty. He later confessed to having sex twice in the vehicle while on duty.
Although Hall initially insisted that he received no dispatcher calls while having sex, he later admitted that he once answered an emergency call and had to drop the former student off at her car.
Based on the misconduct, Police Chief William Miller recommended Hall for termination. He found that Hall had engaged in unbecoming conduct, neglected his duties, misused the instant messaging system, and violated department rules requiring officers to truthfully answer questions relating to their duties.
Hall filed suit, claiming that he had been passed up for a promotion and fired because he is black.
In support of his discrimination charges, Hall pointed out two white police officers who had traveled more than 20 miles from Flossmoor while on duty to move one officer's home generator. After receiving an emergency domestic-violence call, the officers had to "speed back to the village, emergency lights ablaze and sirens wailing." One officer was suspended for 10 days; the other received a written warning.
U.S. District Judge John Lee granted summary judgment to the department, finding that Hall's promotion claims were untimely and that he had failed to make a prima facie showing of discrimination regarding his termination.
Lee determined that Hall had failed to meet the village's legitimate employment expectations and had not identified any sufficiently similar police officers who are not black.
A three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit affirmed Monday. "We agree with [the] bottom line, though not entirely with the court's reasoning," the unsigned opinion states.
"The court placed great emphasis on the fact that Hall is the only officer known to have had sex in a police vehicle while on duty and then lie about it," the judges added. "But 'complete identity' with a comparator is not essential; a plaintiff simply needs evidence that a coworker's misconduct was similar enough to infer that the uneven punishments resulted from racial bias."
Hall's dishonesty nonetheless distinguished his misconduct from that of the white officers.
"Hall's interview was scheduled in advance, and he knew the inquiry would focus on the former student, yet he still lied more than a dozen times about having sex in a police vehicle while on duty," the opinion states.
The 7th Circuit also affirmed dismissal of the promotion claims. Although some of Hall's claims were within four-year statute of limitations of Section 1983, he had failed to offer evidence that the village had a policy of discriminatory promotions, the judges wrote.
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