On January 5, 2021, in its first employment law decision of 2021, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a sex discrimination and equal pay lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Equal Pay Act ("EPA"). Kellogg v. Ball State University, No. 20-1406 (7th Cir. 1/5/2021). The decision turned on a single statement that the Director made to the plaintiff when he hired her, that she "didn't need any more starting salary because he knew her husband worked." The 7th Circuit found that this statement is "evidence of unequivocal discrimination." The statement contradicted the defendant's proffered explanations for the pay disparity, and put them into dispute. This was so even though the statement was made long ago and well outside of the statute of limitations, because it affected paychecks that the plaintiff received within the statute of limitations. Thus, the 7th Circuit held that the defendant blatantly discriminated against the plaintiff by telling her that, because her husband worked, she did not need any more starting pay. "Such clear discrimination calls the sincerity of the defendant's rationales into question."
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On December 30, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a federal lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). McAllister v. Innovation Ventures, LLC, No. 20-1779 (7th Cir. 12/30/2020). The plaintiff, a machine operator, was injured in a car accident and consequently could not return to work. The defendant terminated her employment since she could still not return to work after she had exhausted her leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). The defendant maintained a company policy that employees who were unable to return to work after six months of leave would be terminated. The plaintiff filed a failure-to-accommodate lawsuit under the ADA.
On December 21, 2020, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act (the "Act"). The Act does not extend the requirements for covered employers to provide employees with emergency paid sick leave or emergency paid family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the "FFCRA"). Mandatory leave under the FFCRA expires on December 31, 2020. Effective January 1, 2021, covered employers may voluntarily provide employees with emergency paid sick leave or emergency paid family and medical leave under the FFCRA, but are not required to do so.
According to recently published EEOC Guidance (summarized below), the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations raises employment law questions under the ADA, GINA, and Title VII. These laws do not prohibit employers from requiring their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine or even administering the vaccine to their employees themselves, except under certain circumstances. Pre-vaccination medical screening of employees, however, raises a whole host of employment law concerns, of which employers should familiarize themselves.
On December 8, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a lawsuit filed by a social worker against the Chicago Board of Eduction alleging gender and disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation. Williams v. Board of Education of City of Chicago, No. 19-3152 (7th Cir. 12/8/2020). The plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to award him certain positions on account of his gender and disability, as well as in retaliation for his protected activity of requesting an accommodation for his disability and filing discrimination claims.
On November 23, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service under the Rehabilitation Act, which is the equivalent of the Americans with Disabilities Act for federal employees. Vargas v. Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General, No. 20-1116 (7th Cir. Nov. 23, 2020). After he aggravated an old foot injury on the job, the plaintiff was placed on work restrictions that prohibited him from lifting and carrying heavy weights. This created a problem for him because his job duties included carrying heavy loads and packages. He requested accommodations from the employer, but without any alternative jobs for him to do, his accommodation request was denied. Consequently, he had to take paid sick leave for several weeks and eventually went on unpaid leave. He sued his employer under Title VII for race discrimination and retaliation, and for disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act.
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