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Fourth Circuit Remands Prisoner’s Equal Protection Claim

by Mike Brodheim

On March 17, 2011, in an unpublished per curiam decision, the Fourth Circuit remanded a prisoner’s equal protection claim that alleged black prisoners were routinely ordered to perform more degrading tasks than their white counterparts, and that such job assignment decisions were made on the basis of race “with the intent to humiliate and embarrass the black inmates.”

The district court had dismissed Cornell F. Daye’s § 1983 complaint at the initial screening stage pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Daye had sued West Virginia prison officials in 2009, alleging that the treatment he received at his prison job was unconstitutional.

Daye raised two claims: 1) that the treatment at his prison job was racially discriminatory, and 2) that he was fired for complaining about the discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.

While the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court’s dismissal on the equal protection claim, it affirmed the dismissal of Daye’s First Amendment claim, holding that his verbal complaints to prison officials were not constitutionally protected.

PLN readers should note that to the extent Daye was complaining about racial discrimination, the latter holding may conflict with decisions of other circuit courts, where complaints concerning racial discrimination would likely receive constitutional protection. See: Daye v. Rubenstein, 417 Fed.Appx. 317 (4th Cir. 2011) (unpublished); 2011 WL 917248.

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Related legal case

Daye v. Rubenstein