U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in Age Discrimination Lawsuit

On July 17, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment on an age discrimination claim in which a bus driver alleged that his employment was terminated because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").  Pickett v. Chicago Transit Authority, No. 18-2785 (7th Cir. July 17, 2019).  After an incident with a bus passenger, the plaintiff took a six month leave of absence while recovering.  After his physician concluded that he could return to work (but not as a driver), the plaintiff requested a light duty assignment.  He was given one, but four days later, he was informed that the defendant was not ready to permit his return to work.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in Age and Race Discrimination Lawsuit

On June 27, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's order granting the defendant-employer's motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims for age discrimination, race discrimination and retaliation.  Fields v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, et al., No. 17-3136 (7th Cir. June 27, 2019).  The plaintiff, a Chicago Public School teacher, sued the Board of Education and the principal of the school where she worked, alleging that they discriminated against her based on her race and age and retaliated against her for filing this lawsuit, in violation of Section 1981 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").  The district court entered summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff did not suffer an adverse employment action, which is a required element of an employment discrimination claim.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in ADA Reasonable Accommodation Action

On June 26, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting the defendant-employer's motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her former employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") by rescinding her long-standing work-from-home reasonable accommodation, and requiring her to relocate to another state to work face-to-face.  Bilinsky v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 18-3107 (7th Circuit June 26, 2019).  The plaintiff was employed by the defendant for more than two decades.  After she contracted multiple sclerosis ("MS"), the defendant provided her with a work-from-home arrangement as a reasonable accommodation for her disability.  The accommodation permitted the plaintiff to perform her administrative job from her home in Chicago, even though her colleagues operated out of the company headquarters in Dallas.  The defendant claimed that after a major corporate merger with another airline, it restructured its operations and informally "re-purposed" the plaintiff's department.

7th Circuit Reverses 12(b)(6) Dismissal of Complaint for Title VII Race Discrimination and ADA Disability Discrimination and Retaliation.

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.

7th Circuit Holds that Extreme Obesity does not Qualify as a Disability Under the ADA Unless it is Caused by an Underlying Physiological Disorder or Condition.

On June 12, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in an action under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), in which the plaintiff, a CTA bus driver, alleged that the CTA took adverse employment action against him because of his extreme obesity, in violation of the ADA.  Richardson v. Chicago Transit Authority, Nos. 17-3508 & 18-2199 (7th Cir. June 12, 2019).  The Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court, that extreme obesity only qualifies as a disability under the ADA if it is caused by an underlying physiological disorder or condition.  The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against a qualified individual on the basis of disability.  To succeed on an ADA claim, an employee must show: (1) she is disabled; (2) she is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) the adverse employment action was caused by her disability.

7th Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Age Discrimination Lawsuit where the Employee-Plaintiff Misnamed the Employer-Defendant in his Original EEOC Charge of Discrimination

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.

Physician with Hospital Practice Privileges not an Employee of the Hospital for Purposes of Title VII Discrimination Claims

On May 8, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a hospital on Title VII employment discrimination claims brought by a physician whose practice privileges were terminated by the hospital.  Levitin v. Northwest Community Hospital, No. 16-3774 (7th Cir. May 8, 2019).  The physician sued the hospital, alleging that it terminated her hospital practice privileges on the basis of her sex, religion, and ethnicity, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").  The hospital argued that the physician was not an employee of the hospital and, therefore, her Title VII discrimination claims were precluded.  The district court found that she was an independent physician with practice privileges at the hospital, not the hospital's employee.

Bright-Line Two-Year Rule for Noncompetition Agreements Reaffirmed by the Illinois Appellate Court

On March 29, 2019, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, upheld the rule that continued employment for less than two years does not constitute adequate consideration to support noncompetition or nonsolicitation provisions contained in Illinois at-will employment contracts.  Axion RMS, Ltd. v. Booth, 2019 IL App (1st) 180724 (First Dist. March 29, 2019).  This is the so-called "two-year rule," established by the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, in its decision in Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., 2013 IL App (1st) 120327, which remains fluid and controversial, because the Illinois Supreme Court has not decided the issue.  Consequently, federal district court judges may, but are not required to follow the "two-year" rule when determining the enforceability of noncompetition or nonsolicitation agreements under Illinois law.  Federal judges in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois have split on the issue--some follow the bright-line "two-year rule," while others determine the enforceability of employment restrictive covenants based upon the totality of the circumstances.

7th Circuit Explains the ADA Interactive Process to Identify a Reasonable Accommodation

On March 6, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the district court did not err in its jury instruction about the legal consequences of an employee's failure to cooperate with her employer in identifying a reasonable accommodation.  Sansone v. Brennan, Postmaster General of the United States, No. 17-3534 & No. 17-3632 (7th Cir. March 6, 2019).  The plaintiff, a postal employee confined to a wheelchair, was for years provided by the Postal Service with a parking spot with room to deploy his van's wheelchair ramp, until it took that spot away and failed to provide him with a suitable replacement.  He filed a lawsuit against the Postal Service, alleging that it failed to accommodate his disability.  A jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, and he recovered compensatory damages, as well as back pay and front pay.  The Service appealed on various grounds, including a jury instruction that it claimed was erroneous regarding the required interactive process between an employer and employee to find a reasonable accommodation.

Seventh Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer on Illinois Common Law Retaliatory Discharge Claim

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.

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