On July 22, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment on claims alleged by a teacher that she was not promoted to various positions because of her gender, race and age, in violation of Title VII, Section 1981, and the ADEA. Riley v. Elkhart Community Schools, No. 15-3166 (7th Cir. 7/22/2016). The district court correctly held that the plaintiff failed to produce sufficient evidence for any of her claims to survive summary judgment. To proceed to trial on a failure to promote claim, a plaintiff must produce sufficient direct or circumstantial evidence that the employer's promotion decisions were intentionally discriminatory or make an indirect case of employment discrimination under the burden-shifting method. To demonstrate a prima facie case of failure to promote, a plaintiff must produce evidence showing that: (1) she was a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position sought; (3) she was rejected for the position; and (4) the employer promoted someone outside of the protected class who was not better qualified for the position.
ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act)
On June 28, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by a registered nurse in which she claimed that she was fired from her job because of her age and race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Simpson v. Franciscan Alliance, Inc., No. 15-2679 (7th Cir. 6/28/2016). The 7th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination or offer evidence that the employer's proffered reason for her termination was pretext for employment discrimination. There was no evidence that similarly situated employees outside of the plaintiff's protected classes were treated more favorably than her under similar circumstances. The plaintiff's vague and conclusory assertions were not enough. She did not submit admissible evidence of other nurses who were not disciplined or fired after engaging in similar misconduct.
On May 6, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in an age discrimination lawsuit filed by a tenured professor against a college under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Roberts v. Columbia College Chicago, et al., No. 15-2079 (7th Cir., 5/6/2016). In this case, a college terminated a professor after it discovered that he had allegedly plagiarized several chapters in a textbook. He claimed that his termination was unlawful discrimination on the basis of his age. The ADEA prohibits an employer from terminating or otherwise discriminating against an employee because of his or her age. The protected class under the ADEA covers individuals who are 40 years of age or older. The plaintiff did not produce any evidence that the decision-maker harbored any age-based discriminatory animus against him. Instead, he tried to advance his claim under the "cat's paw" theory of liability--that the decision-maker's decision was influenced by a subordinate employee--who acted for discriminatory reasons.
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 March 9, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that he was fired from his job because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Bridge v. New Holland Logansport, Inc., No. 15-1935 (7th Cir., 3/9/2016). The ADEA prohibits employers from discharging employees because of their age. The statute defines an "employer" as someone who has 20 or more employees for each working day, in each of 20 or more calendar weeks, in the calendar year of (or in the year preceding) the discriminatory acts. The district court entered summary judgment after concluding that the defendant company did not have 20 or more employees. A company with fewer than 20 employees is not an "employer" under and therefore is not subject to the ADEA.
On March 4, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order that granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's retaliation claims that she had filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Boston v. U.S. Steel Corporation, No. 15-2795 (7th Cir., 3/4/2016). The plaintiff worked for U.S Steel for 18 years before she was laid off, along with a number of other employees. She filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), in which she alleged that she was laid off in retaliation for an earlier EEOC discrimination charge. She filed a lawsuit in federal court in which she sought relief for retaliation under Title VII and the ADEA, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress under Illinois common law.
On March 4, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court in an enforcement action, which granted the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's ("EEOC") application for enforcement of subpoenas it served on a staffing agency and its clients for information to determine whether the agency or its clients are engaged in age-related employment discrimination. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Aerotek, Inc., No. 15-1690 (7th Cir., 3/4/2016). The staffing agency supplies temporary workers to its clients. The EEOC sought information regarding the agency's practices in recruitment, hiring, and placement of its workers. The EEOC's initial review of the information it received revealed hundreds of discriminatory job requests by the staffing agency's clients. One request stated that the client and his employees were in their twenties and that "a person in their 40s or 50s would not be a cultural fit." Another client was looking for "young energetic guys with some sports knowledge...." Yet another sought a "Fresh College Grad."
On March 10, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendant in an employment lawsuit in which a white male postal worker alleged that he was a victim of reverse race discrimination, age discrimination, and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Formella v. Brennan, No. 15-1402 (7th Cir., 3/10/2016). The plaintiff argued that he established a claim of reverse discrimination based on the denial of a transfer to a favorable position and the selection of an allegedly less qualified non-white employee for the position. The traditional indirect burden-shifting method of proof enunciated in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green is modified in the 7th Circuit by Mills v. Health Care Services Corp. for reverse discrimination cases. A reverse discrimination plaintiff must establish that: (1) background circumstances exist to create an inference that the employer has reason or inclination to discriminate invidiously against whites, or evidence that there is something "fishy" about the facts at hand; (2) he or she was meeting the employer's legitimate performance expectations; (3) he or she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) he or she was treated less favorably than similarly situated individuals who are not members of his or her protected class. Under the modified reverse discrimination standard, the plaintiff, rather than merely alleging that he or she is a member of a protected class, is required to present background circumstances showing that the employer or decision-maker had a reason or motivation to discriminate against whites. Notably, this is a heightened standard of proof for reverse discrimination claims.
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") has established new procedures for its investigation of EEOC charges. Under the new procedures, a charging party may obtain a respondent's position statement from the EEOC upon request, and file a response to the position statement within 20 days after receipt. The new procedures apply to position statements requested by the EEOC on or after January 1, 2016. This is an important employment law development. Previously, a charging party was not entitled to obtain a respondent's position statement until the EEOC closed its investigation, and then, only through a Freedom of Information Act request. There was no opportunity for a charging party to review or respond to a position statement during the investigation. The new procedures significantly improve the EEOC investigative process by facilitating a meaningful exchange of information and allowing investigators to consider responses.
On February 3, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment in an age discrimination lawsuit in which a former school principal alleged that his contract was not renewed because of his age. Bordelon v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, No. 14-3240 (7th Cir., 2/3/2016). The Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because of his or her age. A plaintiff may prove discriminatory intent under the ADEA with the direct or indirect method of proof. Under the direct method, the plaintiff may rely on direct or circumstantial evidence to show discriminatory motivation. Direct evidence, which is rare, is an acknowledgement of discriminatory intent by the defendant. Circumstantial evidence is evidence that allows an inference of intentional discrimination by the decisionmaker.