On June 14, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of a complaint in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant terminated his employment because of his race and disability, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Freeman v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, No. 18-3737 (7th Cir. June 14, 2019). The plaintiff, an African-American man who suffers from alcoholism, sued his former employer for firing him because of his race and disability. The district court dismissed his complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Seventh Circuit, however, concluded that the plaintiff has pleaded enough to state his claims.
On June 13, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in a Title VII retaliation case in which the plaintiff-employee alleged that he was constructively discharged in retaliation for complaining about a racially charged employment incident. Mollet v. City of Greenfield, No. 18-3685 (7th Cir. June 13, 2019). The question in every retaliation case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") is whether the statutorily protected activity was the "but-for" cause of the adverse employment action. In this case, the 7th Circuit agreed with the district court that it wasn't. Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for complaining about discrimination. The plaintiff, a firefighter, argued that the defendant fire department retaliated against him for complaining about a discriminatory incident involving a co-worker. To establish a retaliation claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) he engaged in protected activity; (2) his employer took a materially adverse employment action against him; and (3) there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse job action.
On June 7, 2019, the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an age discrimination complaint on the ground that the plaintiff had incorrectly named the defendant in his EEOC charge. Trujillo v. Rockledge Furniture LLC, Nos. 18-3349 & 19-1651 (7th Cir. June 7, 2019). The plaintiff filed a charge of age discrimination and retaliation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") after his employment was terminated. In his charge, the plaintiff failed to list the correct legal name of the defendant. The district court dismissed his claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because he did not name his employer sufficiently, and because the EEOC did not notify the correct employer of the charge.
On June 5, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII race discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. LaRiviere v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, et al., No. 18-3188 (7th Cir. June 5, 2019). The plaintiff, an African-American woman, who was notified that she would not be reappointed to her position, sued for race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Absent evidence that her ethnicity was the reason for her termination, or of a causal connection between her protected activity and her termination, her claims could not survive summary judgment. While "[u]nmistakable evidence of racial animus--racial epithets or explicitly race-motivated treatment--makes for simply analysis....[t]he more complicated cases arise when there is no 'smoking gun' showing intentional employment discrimination."
On June 3, 2019, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the requirement under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") that a complainant must first file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") as a precondition to the commencement of a Title VII lawsuit in court is not jurisdictional. Ford Bend County, Texas v. Davis, 587 U.S. ___ (2019). Title VII proscribes employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Title VII also prohibits retaliation against persons who assert rights under the statute. As a precondition to filing a Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit in court, a complainant must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. The Supreme Court considered whether Title VII's charge-filing precondition is a jurisdictional requirement that may be raised by the defense at any stage of a lawsuit, or a procedural prescription mandatory if timely raised, but subject to waiver if not timely raised. In an opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg, the Supreme Court held that the charge-filing precondition is not jurisdictional. Consequently, a plaintiff's failure to file a charge of discrimination before filing a Title VII lawsuit must be timely raised as an objection or a defense early in the lawsuit. Otherwise, the objection or defense may be forfeited.
On April 2, 2019, the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District, reversed the trial court's order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in an employment discrimination lawsuit under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"), in which the plaintiff-employee claimed that her employer unlawfully discriminated against her because of her sex, race, national origin, and age, and unlawfully retaliated against her for complaining about it. Lau v. Abbott Laboratories, 2019 IL App (2d) 180456 (Second Dist. April 2, 2019). The IHRA is an Illinois anti-discrimination statute that contains the same employee protections as the federal anti-discrimination statutes (as well as some additional protected classifications that are not covered by the federal laws). Illinois courts interpreting the IHRA are guided by federal case law interpreting the federal anti-discrimination laws. The same legal standards and proof paradigms apply.
On February 20, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer on an Illinois common law retaliatory discharge claim. Walker v. Ingersoll Cutting Tool Company, No. 18-2673 (7th Cir. Feb. 20, 2019). The employer discharged the employee after he was involved in a physical altercation with another employee. He sued the employer, alleging race discrimination under Title VII and retaliatory discharge under Illinois law. The district court granted summary judgment for the employer on all claims. On appeal, the plaintiff abandoned his Title VII racial discrimination claim. The retaliatory discharge claim failed for lack of evidence of a causal connection between any protected activity and the plaintiff's discharge.
On January 29, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a lawsuit alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"), in which the plaintiff-employee claimed that the employer failed to promote, disciplined, and demoted him because of his race and national origin, and in retaliation for his previous internal complaints of employment discrimination and workplace harassment. Cervantes v. Ardagh Group, No. 17-3536 (7th Cir. Jan. 29, 2019). His discrimination claims failed because he did not exhaust his administrative remedies. His retaliation claim failed because he did not engage in protected activity, and there was no evidence of any causal connection between any protected activity and the adverse employment actions.
On December 26, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment for the defendant-employer in a sexual harassment lawsuit in which the plaintiff-former employee alleged that she was subjected to unlawful sexual harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Swyear v. Fare Foods Corporation, No. 18-2108 (7th Cir. 12/26/2018). The sexual harassment claim was based on offensive nicknames used by employees for co-workers and customers, but not for the plaintiff, and a business trip incident with a co-worker involving inappropriate behavior by the co-worker. The plaintiff reported the incident to management and subsequently was given two negative performance reviews and fired. In its decision, the 7th Circuit discussed the elements and legal standards for sexual harassment claims.
On December 14, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. Terry v. Gary Community School Corporation, No. 18-1270 (7th Cir. 12/14/2018). The plaintiff worked as a teacher and a Principal for thirty-five years. The defendant closed the elementary school where the plaintiff had served as Principal due to declining enrollment, and reassigned her to serve as the Assistant Principal at another elementary school. She considered this a demotion. In addition, the defendant also selected a male employee over the plaintiff for a separate promotion, even though the plaintiff had earned the highest ranking of all the applicants from the interviewers. In her lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").