U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois

7th Circuit Affirms Jury Verdict for Plaintiff-Employee in FMLA Lawsuit

On November 12, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff-employee who sued the defendant-employer for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").  Valdivia v. Township High School District 214, No. 19-1410 (7th Cir. 11/12/2019).  The plaintiff claimed that the defendant interfered with her rights under the FMLA by failing to provide her with notice or information about her right to take job-protected leave.  After a jury trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her $12,000 in damages.  The plaintiff informed her supervisor that she was considering leaving for medical reasons.  She submitted a letter of resignation but shortly thereafter asked to rescind her resignation, which request was denied, resulting in the conclusion of her employment.

Employer's Fear that Job Applicant would Develop Future Impairment Not "Regarded-As" Disability Discrimination under the ADA

On October 29, 2019, the 7th Circuit ruled that the "regarded-as" provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") does not encompass conduct motivated by the likelihood that an employee or job applicant will develop a future disability within the scope of the ADA.  Shell v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company, No. 19-1030 (7th Cir. 10/29/2019).  In this case, the defendant refused to hire the plaintiff solely because it believed that his obesity presented an unacceptably high risk that he would develop certain medical conditions in the future that would suddenly incapacitate him on the job.  He filed a lawsuit under the ADA, alleging that the defendant discriminated against him based on disability.  The defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that the ADA's definition of "disability" is not met where an employer regards a job applicant as not presently having a disability, but at high risk of developing one.  The district court denied the motion, ruling that the ADA does reach discrimination based on future impairment.  The 7th Circuit reversed, reaching a contrary conclusion of law.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Age Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

On October 9, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in an age discrimination and retaliation lawsuit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").  McDaniel v. Progress Rail Locomotive, Inc., No. 18-3565 (10/9/2019).  The plaintiff alleged that his former employer unlawfully discriminated against him on the basis of age and retaliated against him for complaining about a superior, in violation of the ADEA.  The plaintiff failed to produce evidence of any substantially younger similarly situated employees who were treated more favorably.

7th Circuit Explains Title VII Exhaustion Requirement

On August 28, 2019, the 7th Circuit issued an opinion in which it explained the exhaustion of administrative remedies doctrine for Title VII employment discrimination claims.  Chaidez v. Ford Motor Company, No. 18-2753 (7th Cir. 8/28/2019).  The plaintiffs alleged a racially discriminatory hiring scheme that resulted in a lack of Hispanic and Latino line workers at the defendant's Chicago assembly plant.  The district court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, holding that the plaintiffs' claims were not "like or reasonably related to" the claims alleged in their EEOC charges.  The 7th Circuit concluded that the claims alleged in Count I of the plaintiffs' complaint were not exhausted before the EEOC and therefore affirmed the district court's dismissal of Count I.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Title VII Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation Claims

On August 21, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting the defendant-employer's motion for summary judgment in a Title VII lawsuit, in which the plaintiff-former employee alleged that the employer had subjected him to a hostile work environment and discharged him in retaliation for his complaints about racial discrimination, in violation of Title VII.  Smith v. Illinois Department of Transportation, No. 18-2948 (7th Cir. 8/21/2019).  To survive summary judgment on his retaliation claim, the plaintiff was required to show that a reasonable jury could find that he engaged in protected activity, that he suffered an adverse employment action, and that the adverse action was motived by a protected activity.  The only issue was whether the employer terminated the plaintiff because he complained about racial discrimination.  The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court, that a reasonable jury could not find in Smith's favor.  Because there was extensive evidence that the plaintiff failed to meet his employer's legitimate expectations, a reasonable jury could not find that the employer fired him for his protected activity, rather than for his poor job performance.

7th Circuit Upholds Employee Arbitration Agreement

On August 19, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court that granted an employer's motion to compel arbitration pursuant to an employee arbitration agreement that required arbitration of employment-related disputes.  Gupta v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC, et al., No. 18-3584 (7th Cir. 8/19/2019).  The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against his former employer for employment discrimination and retaliation.  The company moved to compel arbitration.  It argued that the employee agreed to arbitrate the employment claims after he did not opt out of the company's arbitration agreement.  The plaintiff contended that during his employment, he never saw an arbitration offer or agreed to arbitrate employment-related disputes.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Failure-to-Accommodate Claim

On August 15, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff-employee alleged violations of the Rehabilitation Act for failure to accommodate.  Yochim v. Carson, Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, No. 8-3670 (7th Cir. 8/15/2019).  The plaintiff worked in the legal department of HUD.  For years, she took advantage of its flexible and progressive policy permitting employees to work from home several days per week.  After undergoing surgery, she requested time off and permission to work from home.  HUD agreed and allowed her time to recover and to telework from home several days a week for many months as she received physical therapy.

7th Circuit Affirms Jury Verdict for Defendant in Gender Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit

On August 14, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the plaintiff's motion for a new trial in a lawsuit alleging unequal pay due to gender discrimination and retaliation.  O'Donnell v. Caine Weiner Company, LLC, No. 18-1826 (7th Cir. 8/14/2019).  The plaintiff lost on all counts at a jury trial.  She filed a motion for a new trial on numerous grounds, including that the allegedly erroneous jury instructions and verdict forms prejudiced her case.  The 7th Circuit affirmed because the plaintiff's arguments on appeal related only to damages, but the jury found against her on liability and, therefore, the alleged errors did not prejudice her case.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Title VII National Origin Discrimination Claim

On August 8, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII national origin discrimination case.  Sterlinski v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, No. 18-2844 (7th Cir. 8/8/2019).  The plaintiff was hired as Director of Music for a  parish, but was demoted to the job of an organist, and subsequently fired.  He claimed in his employment discrimination lawsuit that the defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his Polish heritage.  Until his demotion, he could have been terminated for any reason, because as Director of Music he held substantial authority over the conduct of religious services, and, therefore, would have been treated as a minister for purposes of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutherine Church and School v. EEOC, 565 U.S. 171 (2012), which holds that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not apply to ministers.

Elements of a Title VII Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Claim

On July 26, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment on a Title VII sexual harassment hostile work environment claim.  Hunt v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 18-3403 (7th Cir. 7/26/2019).  The plaintiff filed a complaint in federal court alleging that a supervisor sexually harassed her by creating a hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII).  A Title VII hostile work environment sexual harassment claim requires a plaintiff to show: (1) the work environment was objectively and subjectively offensive; (2) the harassment complained of was based on gender; (3) the conduct was either severe or pervasive; and (4) there is a basis for employer liability.

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