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 August 19, 2016, the 7th Circuit reversed the district court's entry of summary judgment in an employment discrimination claim under Section 1981 and the Illinois Human Rights Act. Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., No.15-2574 (7th Cir. 8/19/ 2016). The plaintiff worked as a freight broker for the defendant for seven years until he was discharged. The defendant claims that it fired the plaintiff for falsifying business records. The Plaintiff claims that the defendant fired him because of his Mexican ethnicity. He also claims that he was subjected to a hostile work environment in the form of ongoing ethnic slurs throughout his employment that increased in frequency and intensity in the months leading up to his discharge.
On August 12, 2016, Governor Rauner signed the Illinois Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights into law, which becomes effective on January 1, 2017. This new Illinois employment law amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to extend its protections against sexual harassment and other forms of employment discrimination to domestic workers in Illinois who work more than 8 hours per week in the aggregate, including nannies, housekeepers, private caregivers, and other domestic workers. Before the amendment, domestic workers were excluded from coverage under the Illinois Human Rights Act.
Effective July 1, 2017, Chicago City Ordinance will require employers to provide employees with paid sick leave. This new requirement will apply to all employers, regardless of the number of employees, that maintain a business facility within the geographic boundary of the City or who are subject to one of the City's licensing requirements. Coverage extends to all employees who perform at least 2 hours of work within the City in any 2-week period and who work at least 80 hours during any 120-day period. Eligibility begins after an initial 6-month probationary period. Employers will be required to provide 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours in each 12-month period. Employees will be allowed to carry over 2.5 paid sick days into the following 12-month period, but employers will not be required to pay employees for unused sick days. Significantly, eligible employees will be able to use paid sick leave for their own illness, injury or medical care, or for that of their covered family members, including domestic partners.
On August 2, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed the trial court's judgment that the City of Chicago violated the Illinois Human Rights Act (the "Act") by using the fact of an employee's alleged arrest as the basis to alter the terms of her employment. Murillo v. City of Chicago, 2016 IL App (1st) 143002 (8/2/2016). The Act prohibits employers from using the fact of an arrest as a basis to discriminate in employment. The plaintiff, after working for the City for three years as a janitor, was required to submit to a background check to keep her job. The check revealed an alleged prior arrest, which had been dismissed for lack of probable cause. The City refused to give the plaintiff security clearance and ultimately terminated her employment. The appellate court rejected the City's argument, that it permissibly used other information that indicated that the plaintiff engaged in the conduct for which she was allegedly arrested (and did not use the fact of the arrest itself), because the City failed to investigate the alleged arrest beyond the bare police reports.
On July 28, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a sexual orientation discrimination claim for failure to state a cause of action under Title VII, and held that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or sexual preference is not covered by Title VII's prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex. Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, No. 15-1720 (7th Cir. 7/28/2016). A lesbian part-time professor filed this case under Title VII alleging that the college denied her full-time employment on the basis of her sexual orientation. The college filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that sexual orientation is not a protected classification under Title VII. The district court agreed. In a lengthy opinion, the 7th Circuit clarified that sexual orientation discrimination is outside of the scope of and therefore not unlawful under Title VII. The 7th Circuit's decision addresses and rejects the (opposite) position advanced by the EEOC, that sexual orientation discrimination constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII.
On June 29, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed a judgment entered by the circuit court which awarded the plaintiff attorneys' fees and litigation costs in the amount of $330,412 after a jury trial on her retaliation and sexual harassment claims. Mendez v. The Town of Cicero, 2016 IL App (1st) 150791 (6/29/2016). The plaintiff alleged that her employer transferred her to an undesirable position in retaliation for reporting the alleged sexual harassment of a co-worker by a manager. The jury agreed that the transfer was retaliatory, but did not award her any monetary relief for alleged emotional distress or lost future earnings. The court granted the plaintiff's equitable claim for reinstatement to her previous position. The defendant contended on appeal that the fee award was excessive given the absence of a monetary award. The appellate court held that the fee award was reasonable because the plaintiff was the prevailing party and the order of reinstatement was more than a nominal victory. The order of reinstatement vindicated her right under the Illinois Human Rights Act to be free from retaliation for reporting sexual harassment.
On June 27, 2016, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of summary judgment in a workers' compensation retaliatory discharge lawsuit under Illinois law. Baptist v. Ford Motor Company, No. 15-2913 (7th Cir. 6/27/2016). The plaintiff, a former forklift operator, claimed that he was fired in retaliation for exercising his right to pursue a claim under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act. To prevail on a common-law claim for retaliatory discharge under Illinois law, a plaintiff must establish that the discharge was primarily in retaliation for his exercise of a protected right. The 7th Circuit concluded that summary judgment was improper due to conflicting evidence about whether the defendant's motivation for the discharge was retaliatory.
On May 20, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed a decision of the Cook County Commission on Human Rights ("Commission") in favor of a County employee on her sexual harassment and age discrimination claims against the County under Cook County ordinance. Cook County Sheriff's Office v. Cook County Commission On Human Rights, 2016 IL App (1st) 150718 (5/20/2016). The employee filed a claim with the Commission in which she alleged that she was subjected to ongoing sexual harassment as well as harassment on the basis of her age. She alleged that her co-worker and eventual supervisor subjected her to ongoing sexual discrimination by engaging in unwanted physical touching and sexually offensive remarks in the workplace. She also alleged that he made age-based jokes and derogatory remarks toward her in front of co-workers. The alleged sexual harassment and age-related harassment continued unabated despite the employee's complaints to the director of her department.
On May 3, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed an order of the trial court which granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's age and disability discrimination employment discharge claims brought under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). Kreczko v. Triangle Package Machinery Co., 2016 IL App (1st) 151762 (5/3/2016). This was an employment discrimination case under the IHRA, Illinois' state anti-discrimination law, rather its federal counterpart, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). The defendant discharged the plaintiff after receiving several customer complaints about his job performance. Four months later, the defendant replaced the plaintiff with a newly hired younger Hispanic employee. The plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and subsequently filed a lawsuit in state court in which he alleged age, race, and disability discrimination. The trial court dismissed the race discrimination claim, and granted summary judgment on the age and disability claims. The plaintiff did not establish a case of unlawful discrimination because he failed to meet the defendant's legitimate performance expectations, and the defendant offered a reason for his discharge (unsatisfactory job performance) that was not pretext for unlawful discrimination.