Video Surveillance of Employee Not Race Discrimination

| Jun 27, 2011 | Race Discrimination |

Timothy Blake v. Beachwood City Schools (Cuy. App. March 10, 2011), 2011-Ohio-1099: Plaintiff appealed from the grant of summary judgment against him on this race discrimination case. Plaintiff was employed as the head custodian of an elementary school. He worked the day shift and supervised two other custodians, Jay Schachtel and Tara Ming. Custodial duties were originally divided equally between Schachtel and Ming. However, in 2008, Schachtel complained to plaintiff that he thought his cleaning duties were divided up unequally. Although plaintiff indicated that he would look into the complaint, he never did. A month later, Schachtel complained to plaintiff’s supervisor about the uneven cleaning duties and was told to speak with plaintiff again. Although plaintiff had decided to rotate the building assignments for both custodians, he never informed Schachtel of his decision. A month later, Schachtel went back to plaintiff’s supervisor and complained that Ming was abusing her break time. There was evidence in the record that Ming spent over four hours a day taking breaks when she was limited to two fifteen minute breaks and one lunch break. Ultimately, the school administration installed cameras to record how much time Ming spent on her break. When the camera footage confirmed Schachtel’s complaint, the administration decided to demote plaintiff to a being a custodian, and fired Ming.

Plaintiff commenced this race discrimination case by claiming that his demotion violated the Ohio Civil Rights Act. He claimed in response to defendant’s summary judgment motion that he and Ming were African-American and were the only employees subject to video surveillance. He further argued that Schachtel, a Caucasian, should also have been subject to surveillance because Ming had complained that he took extended breaks as well. Plaintiff argued that defendant should have placed a camera to monitor the doorway where Schachtel frequently left to go home on his lunch break.

The Court of Appeals rejected plaintiff’s arguments and affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. In doing so, the court initially concluded that plaintiff did not present evidence that he was replaced by a similarly-situated person for the head custodian position. The defendant did not fill plaintiff’s position. Instead, the defendant divided up plaintiff’s supervisory duties by assigning them to his supervisor. The position was not filled until a year later after plaintiff had appealed his demotion to the Civil Service Commission. When the Commission found against him, the defendant hired a new head custodian.

The Court of Appeals also concluded that plaintiff was not subject to disparate treatment with regards to the video surveillance. Plaintiff argued that the defendant gave more favorable treatment to Schachtel by not disciplining him for leaving the building and taking excessive breaks. However, the court did not consider this evidence as comparable because plaintiff was Schachtel’s supervisor and unlike Schachtel, was in a position of trust and authority. The Court also determined that Schachtel and plaintiff were not comparable because plaintiff was not the subject of the surveillance. Finally, the Court found that plaintiff failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact regarding defendant’s decision to place cameras in an area where employees take their breaks to investigate allegations of break policy abuses.

By: Merl H. Wayman


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