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No Summary Judgment on Oregon Prisoner’s Retaliatory Termination Claim

The OSCI diversity coordinator asked Hentz if OSCl staff were engaging in discriminatory conduct. When he answered “No,” the diversity coordinator instructed Hentz to speak with his supervisor about the problem.

On November 8, 2016, Hentz alerted Kitchen Steward McFadden and Food Services Manager Macias about the discriminatory conduct of his co-workers and his opposition to discrimination in the bakery.

On December 10, 2016, McFadden removed Hentz from his bakery post without explanation. Hentz filed a grievance that McFadden denied, claiming that he was removed from his position because he did not follow recipe directions, “wasted product and money,” and caused “dissention” among bakery workers. McFadden failed to identify any specific instances of conduct supporting her removal decision.

Hentz brought federal suit alleging that McFadden and Macias improperly retaliated  against him for complaining about racial discrimination in violation of the First Amendment. McFadden and Macias moved for summary judgment.

The Oregon district court denied McFadden and Macias’ summary judgment. The court first rejected defendants’ argument that “plaintiffs removal from the bakery did not chill the exercise of his First Amendment rights, because plaintiff had no right to a bakery position and he continued to utilize the grievance process after his removal from the bakery.” Rather, the Court recognized that “removal from a desired prison job could arguably prevent a prisoner of ‘ordinary firmness’ from speaking out about discrimination.”

Turing to the issue of motive, the court also refused to grant summary judgment on defendants’ claim that Hentz was removed “because of his poor work habits.” Instead, the court observed that “the record includes signed statements from plaintiff’s co-workers attesting that he was a hard worker, followed recipe directions and did not waste product, and had an excellent attitude.”

Citing McCollum v. Cal. Dept Corr & Rehab., 647 F3d 870, 882 (9th Cir. 2011), the court explained that “evidence showing that defendants’ reasons for plaintiff’s removal were false or pretextual, combined with defendants’ knowledge of his complaints and the timing of his removal, raises a genuine issue of fact whether plaintiff was removed because of his opposition to discrimination.”

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Related legal case

Hentz v. Gruenwald