On September 16, 2016, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of summary judgment entered by the district court in a federal lawsuit in which the plaintiff, a special education teacher diagnosed with PTSD, alleges that the School District failed to provide her with reasonable accommodation for her disability by refusing her request to be transferred to another special education job in the District that does not involve behavioral or emotional disorder students. Lawler v. Peoria School District No. 150, No. 15-2976 (7th Cir. 9/16/2016). She was tenured by the District after nine years of satisfactory performance. However, when she suffered a relapse of her PTSD, and the District then learned about her disability for the first time, the District transferred her to a different school, to teach children with not only learning disabilities, but also severe emotional and behavioral disorders. The plaintiff and her new supervisor at the new school thought that this was a bad idea. She was rated satisfactory after a year in the new position, but at the start of her second year, she was injured by a disruptive student. Her psychiatrist notified the District that the incident had retriggered her PTSD, and that she needed to be transferred to a different teaching environment. The District did not transfer her, but instead accelerated her next performance appraisal, rated her as unsatisfactory, and terminated her employment as part of a reduction-in-force through which all but unsatisfactory rated teachers were rehired.
ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)
On September 6, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a defendant employer in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff, a former employee, alleged that the employer fired her for taking or requesting leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), in violation of the FMLA. Arrigo v. Jay E. Link, et al., Nos. 13-3838 & 14-3298 (7th Cir. 9/6/2016). After a trial in federal court, the jury returned a verdict for the defendant. The plaintiff appealed on various evidentiary and procedural grounds. Among other things, she contended that the district court erred by excluding from evidence her supervisor's notes from a meeting about her return from medical leave. The 7th Circuit concluded that the district court was correct in excluding the notes as irrelevant to the FMLA claim because they did not imply an unlawful motive. The notes, which contained explicit references to the plaintiff's medical conditions (arguably disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA")), would likely have been relevant and admissible in an ADA disability discrimination lawsuit to demonstrate a disability-based discriminatory animus; but the plaintiff's ADA claim had been thrown out of court on procedural grounds before trial.
On August 23, 2016, the 7th Circuit reversed a $2 million jury verdict on an Illinois workers' compensation retaliatory discharge claim. Hillmann v. City of Chicago, No. 14-3438 & 14-3494 (7th Cir. 8/23/2016). The plaintiff worked for the City in its Department of Streets and Sanitation for three decades, until the City eliminated his position in a reduction-in-force ("RIF"). He filed a lawsuit against the City alleging that he was targeted for elimination in the RIF because he exercised his rights under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act ("IWCA") and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). After a jury trial on the IWCA retaliation claim, the jury returned a $2 million damages verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The judge found for the City after a bench trial on the ADA retaliation claim. Both sides appealed.
On July 6, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment entered in favor of the defendant in a disability discrimination lawsuit in which an employee sued her former employer under the Rehabilitation Act, contending that she was discharged on account of an anxiety disorder and related disabilities. Felix v. Wisconsin Department of Transportation, No. 15-2047 (7th Cir. 7/6/2016). The district court entered summary judgment against the plaintiff on the ground that the undisputed facts demonstrated that she was discharged not solely because of her disabilities, but instead based on workplace behavior that indicated to the employer that she posed a safety risk to herself and others.
On June 28, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed a judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff in a disability discrimination lawsuit. Brown v. Smith, No. 15-1114 (7th Cir. 6/28/2016). The plaintiff, a transportation supervisor, sued his former employer, alleging that his employment was terminated on account of his disability--diabetes--in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against a qualified individual on the basis of his or her disability. An employee is qualified if he or she can perform the essential functions of his or her employment position with or without reasonable accommodation. The employer's termination notice stated that the reason for the plaintiff's termination was his inability to obtain a commercial driver's license ("CDL"). This appeal involved the issue of whether possession of a CDL--which the plaintiff was unable to obtain due his diabetic condition--was an essential function of his job. This was a question of fact for the jury, which concluded that having a CDL was not an essential function of the plaintiff's job.
On June 14, 2016, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") published expansive new guidelines that explain and clarify the legal rights of pregnant employees under federal law. Federal law protects employees against pregnancy-based discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA") prohibits employers from discrimination against employees based on present or past pregnancy, intended pregnancy, medical conditions related to pregnancy, and having or considering an abortion. Employers cannot terminate, refuse to hire or promote, or demote an employee based on any of these factors. Employers are also prohibited from forcing an employee to take a leave of absence for any of these reasons, even if the employer believes that work would pose a risk to the employee or her pregnancy. However, an employer is not required to keep an employee in a job that she is unable to perform or in which she would pose a significant safety risk to others in the workplace.
On June 13, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a disability discrimination and failure to accommodate lawsuit filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Wheatley v. Factory Card And Party Outlet, No. 15-2083 (7th Cir. 6/13/2016). The employer terminated the employee for failure to report to work while she was off work due to a non-work related foot injury. Her leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") had already expired. So had an additional four-week leave with which the employer had provided her, with the ultimatum that if she could not return to work when that time-period expired, her employment would be terminated. The employee alleged that the employer violated the ADA by terminating her employment and failing to accommodate her (foot injury) disability.
On April 27, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District, held that hostile work environment based on disability harassment as well as failure to provide reasonable accommodation are separate and distinct claims under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). Rozsavolgyi v. City of Aurora, 2016 IL App (2d) 150493 (4/27/2016). The IHRA prohibits discrimination in employment and other contexts based on a variety of protected classifications, including disability. In this case, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant violated the IHRA by discriminating against her on the basis of her disabilities, subjecting her to harassment on the basis of her disabilities (creating a hostile work environment), failing to provide her with reasonable accommodation for her disabilities, and retaliating against her for her complaints by terminating her employment. On appeal, the defendant argued, among other things, that there is no separate claim for disability harassment or failure to accommodate under the IHRA. The appellate court disagreed and reached the opposite conclusion through its statutory interpretation of the IHRA, based on Illinois Human Rights Commission decisions, legislative history, and federal court decisions construing analogous federal statutes.
On April 27, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her race (black), in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), and failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation for her disability (chronic fatigue syndrome), in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Wells v. Winnebago County, Illinois, No. 15-1805 (7th Cir., 4/27/2016). The district court granted summary judgment on two grounds: (1) that any discrimination was attributable to state rather than county workers; and (2) there was not enough evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find discrimination. The 7th Circuit disagreed with the district court's first reason, stating that employers must control the behavior of others in the workplace to ensure nondiscriminatory work conditions; and that the federal anti-discrimination laws cannot be so easily evaded.
On March 31, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court which granted the defendant's motion to dismiss an ADA complaint for failure to state a cause of action. Roberts, et al. v. City of Chicago, No. 15-1963 (7th Cir., 3/31/2016). The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago alleging disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). The plaintiffs, who applied for but were denied positions as firefighters after they failed their initial medical screenings, claimed that the City's failure to hire them violated the ADA. The district court dismissed the plaintiffs' complaint because it failed to allege that the plaintiffs were not hired because of their disabilities, and, therefore, failed to allege a violation of the ADA.