On September 26, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a disability discrimination lawsuit in which the plaintiff, a special education teacher, alleged that her receipt of an "unsatisfactory" rating, which resulted in her dismissal in reduction-in-force, constituted unlawful interference in violation of the Rehabilitation Act. Frakes v. Peoria School District No. 150, No. 15-3091 (7th Cir. 9/26/2017). The Rehabilitation Act is a federal statute analogous to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), that prohibits recipients of federal funding, including public schools, from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability. The district court granted summary judgment for the school district on the basis that the plaintiff did not establish that she had engaged in any protected activity, which is required for an interference claim under the Rehabilitation Act. The 7th Circuit agreed, stating that the plaintiff "...provided no evidence that she complained about or discouraged discrimination based on disability or engaged in any other activity protected by law."
ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)
On September 20, 2017, the 7th Circuit held that a long-term medical leave of absence does not constitute a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., No. 15-3754 (7th Cir. 9/20/2017). The plaintiff took a 12-week medical leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") to get medical treatment for a bad back. On the last day of his leave, he had back surgery, which required that he remain off of work for another two or three months. He requested continuation of his medical leave from his employer, the defendant, but by then he had used up all of his FMLA leave. The employer denied his request, terminated his employment, but invited him to reapply when he was medically cleared to work. Three months later, his doctor cleared him to return to work, but he did not reapply; instead, he sued the company, claiming that it had discriminated against him on the basis of his disability, in violation of the ADA, by failing to provide him with a reasonable accommodation in the form of a three-month leave of absence after his FMLA leave expired.
On September 18, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer in a federal lawsuit filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") by a transportation worker, who alleged that he was terminated on the basis of his mental disability in violation of the ADA. Monroe v. Indiana Department of Transportation, et al., No. 16-1959 (7th Cir. 9/18/2017). The plaintiff worked for the Indiana Department of Transportation for over 21 years. One of his job duties was to clean up human remains after traffic fatalities. He also witnessed the death of a co-worker in a work-related accident; and he served in combat in the Gulf War. He was discharged from employment for allegedly creating a hostile and intimidating work environment based on the investigation of a complaint against him by a group of his subordinates, who alleged that he mistreated them. During the investigation, the plaintiff disclosed that he had recently been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
On July 31, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury award of $225,000 in damages to a terminated employee-plaintiff who sued his former employer for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Stragapede v. City of Evanston, Illinois, No. 16-1344 (7th Cir. 7/31/2017). The plaintiff worked in the City of Evanston Water Department for 14 years. After he suffered a traumatic brain injury at home, the City placed him on temporary leave of absence. When he was cleared to return to work, he resumed full-time employment, but just a few weeks later, the City again placed him on administrative leave and subsequently terminated his employment. In federal court, the plaintiff alleged that the City discriminated against him and terminated his employment because of his disability.
On July 20, 2017, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of the district court that had dismissed Title VII claims for hostile work environment, disparate treatment and retaliation. Alamo v. Bliss et at., No. 15-2849 (7th Cir. 7/20/2017). The plaintiff, a Hispanic City of Chicago firefighter, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit in federal court. He alleged various forms of unlawful discrimination on the basis of his national origin under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), a failure to accommodate claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and a retaliation claim under Title VII. The district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim, and dismissed all of the plaintiff's federal claims.
On May 4, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") in which the plaintiff, an assistant principal until she injured her knee while restraining a student, alleged that the defendant school district failed to accommodate her disability. Brown v. Milwaukee Board of School Directors, No. 16-1971 (7th Cir. May 4, 2017) The ADA requires an employer to provide an employee with a reasonable accommodation as long as the employee has a mental or physical impairment that qualifies as a disability under the ADA and the accommodation enables the employee to perform the essential functions of her job, provided that the accommodation does not result in undue hardship to the employer.
On April 6, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of an employer in a lawsuit filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") in which the plaintiff, a hotel desk clerk, alleged that his former employer failed to accommodate his alleged disability, discriminated against him on account of his alleged disability, and fired him in retaliation for complaining about related work conditions. Hirmiz v. New Harrison Hotel Corp., d/b/a Travelodge Hotel Chicago, No. 16-3915 (7th Cir. 4/6/2017). The employer claimed that it fired him after he was caught on video sleeping in the hotel lobby while a fight broke out among several hotel guests. The district court granted summary judgment on the grounds that he had failed to present evidence that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, that he had not engaged in any protected activity before his termination, and that the complaint he'd filed with OSHA had not played any role in his employment termination.
On February 27, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer in a disability discrimination lawsuit. Whitaker v. Wisconsin Department of Health Services, No. 16-1807 (7th Cir. 2/27/2017). The employer terminated the employee's employment when she failed to return to work, after exhausting several consecutive leaves of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act and her employment contract. The employee alleged that the employer violated the Rehabilitation Act by failing to accommodate her disability (recurrent back pain) and terminating her employment because of her disability. Summary judgment was warranted because the employee failed to establish that she was an otherwise qualified employee, i.e., able to perform her essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodation. Regular attendance is an essential job function under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, but the employee did not establish that with additional leave, she could return to work on a regular basis.
Here is a look back at 2016 7th Circuit employment law decisions, including significant trends and changes in employment law in the 7th Circuit, as well as a tally of decisions affirming and reversing summary judgments in employment law cases. Notably, in 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed orders of summary judgment in 22 employment law cases, but reversed orders of summary judgment in only 5 employment law cases (10 calendar days remain, so the numbers may change). But as of this date the ratio is 4.4/1, i.e., 4.4 summary judgments were affirmed for every 1 summary judgment that was reversed. Put another way, of the 27 employment law summary judgments on appeal to the 7th Circuit in 2016, 81.5% were affirmed, while 18.5% were reversed. The 27 cases include employment discrimination, harassment, failure-to-accommodate, and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Rehabilitation Act, Section 1981, the Illinois Human Rights Act, and Illinois common law.
On October 27, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") on the ground that the plaintiff's charge of disability discrimination was untimely. Carlson v. Christian Brothers Services, No. 15-3807 (7th Cir. 10/27/2016). The plaintiff, a customer service representative, filed this lawsuit against her former employer alleging disability discrimination. She was in an automobile accident, as a result of which she had to use a cane, and limped. She alleged that she was fired because of a perceived disability--mobility impairment--in violation of the ADA. The courts did not reach the merits of this case because it was thrown out of court based on the untimeliness of the underlying charge of discrimination.