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.
U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
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.
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.
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 February 20, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of an employer in a Title VII racial harassment lawsuit, in which the employee's immediate supervisor made racial epithets directly to the employee. Gates v. Board of Education Of The City of Chicago, No. 17-3143 (7th Cir. Feb. 20, 2019). The plaintiff's supervisor used the N-word twice and threatened to write up his "black ass." The district court applied the wrong legal standard for hostile work environment claims, erroneously stating that "the workplace that is actionable is one that is hellish." However, "[h]ellish is not the standard a plaintiff must satisfy to prevail on a hostile work environment claim."
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 January 23, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the protections against disparate impact age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") do not extend to outside job applicants. Kleber v. Carefusion Corp., No. 17-1206 (7th Cir. Jan. 23, 2019). This age discrimination case was filed by a 58-year-old attorney who applied for and was denied a position as an in-house attorney, which was given to a 29-year-old applicant. The job description required 3-7 years, but no more than 7 years, of legal experience. Section 4(a)(2) of the ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer to "limit, segregate or classify employees based on age" in such a way that results in an adverse effect on their "status as an employee." The plain statutory language of the ADEA warrants the conclusion that its protections against disparate impact age discrimination are limited to employees.
On October 11, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court that granted the employer-defendant's motion for summary judgment on a disparate-impact claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Dayton v. Oakton Community College, et al., No. 18-1668 (7th Cir. 10/11/2018). The ADEA prohibits an employer from taking adverse job actions against employees who are forty years old or older because of their age. To prevail on a disparate-impact claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that a specific, facially neutral employment practice caused a significantly disproportionate adverse impact based on age. Unlike disparate treatment claims, disparate-impact claims do not require proof of discriminatory motive.
On October 11, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court which dismissed an Illinois common law tort claim for tortious interference with an employment contract for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Webb v. Frawley, No. 18-1607 (7th Cir. 10/11/2018). The plaintiff sued a former co-worker for tortiously interfering with his employment contract, claiming that the interference resulted in the termination of his employment. The district court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant intentionally induced a breach of his employment contract by his employer--the termination of his employment--by ordering him to pursue business that his employer refused to fulfill, and by reporting to his employer that he was not performing. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant did so in an attempt to resurrect or save the defendant's commercial reputation. The plaintiff was advised that his employer had terminated his employment for poor performance and a lack of productivity.
On December 12, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a group of flight attendants, who alleged that their employer's compensation policy--paying for their work in the air but not on the ground--violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and various state and local wage laws. Hirst et al. v. SkyWest, Inc., et al., Nos. 17-3643 & 17-3660 (7th Cir. 12/12/2018). The district court dismissed the complaint in its entirety, finding that the flight attendants had failed to allege a FLSA violation. The fight attendants plausibly alleged that they were not paid for certain hours of work. However, the 7th Circuit agreed with the other federal circuits, that under the FLSA, the relevant unit for determining a wage violation is not wages per hour, but the average hourly wage across a workweek. Because the flight attendants failed to allege even a single workweek in which one them received less than the applicable minimum wage, the 7th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their FLSA claims.