On December 8, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a lawsuit filed by a social worker against the Chicago Board of Eduction alleging gender and disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, and retaliation. Williams v. Board of Education of City of Chicago, No. 19-3152 (7th Cir. 12/8/2020). The plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to award him certain positions on account of his gender and disability, as well as in retaliation for his protected activity of requesting an accommodation for his disability and filing discrimination claims.
U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
On November 23, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service under the Rehabilitation Act, which is the equivalent of the Americans with Disabilities Act for federal employees. Vargas v. Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General, No. 20-1116 (7th Cir. Nov. 23, 2020). After he aggravated an old foot injury on the job, the plaintiff was placed on work restrictions that prohibited him from lifting and carrying heavy weights. This created a problem for him because his job duties included carrying heavy loads and packages. He requested accommodations from the employer, but without any alternative jobs for him to do, his accommodation request was denied. Consequently, he had to take paid sick leave for several weeks and eventually went on unpaid leave. He sued his employer under Title VII for race discrimination and retaliation, and for disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act.
On November 4, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), in which the plaintiff claimed that he was dismissed from a police academy because of his actual or perceived disability. Sandefur v. Thomas J. Dart and Cook County, Illinois, No. 19-2787 (7th Cir. Nov. 4, 2020). Plaintiff was a corrections officer for the Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois. The ADA prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. To establish an ADA claim, a plaintiff must plead and prove that she: (1) was disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) was qualified to perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) suffered an adverse employment action because of her disability.
On August 11, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff, a terminated employee who claimed that he was fired because of his race, African-American, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Morris v. BNSF Railway Company, No. 19-2808 & 19-2913 (7th Cir. Aug. 11, 2020). The crux of his employment discrimination lawsuit was disparate discipline--that he was disciplined more harshly than similarly situated non-African-American employees who committed the same or similar violations of the same company policy. Specifically, he claimed that he was subjected to a formal disciplinary process that culminated in his termination, while non-African-American employees were given a more lenient informal disciplinary process that practically guaranteed that they would not be terminated.
On August 6, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged associational disability discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Pierri v. Medline Industries, Inc., No. 19-3356 (7th Cir. Aug. 6, 2020). The plaintiff was a chemist for the defendant. Initially, he did well at the company, but problems arose after he asked for accommodations to enable him to take care of his ailing grandfather. The defendant gave him time off to take care of his grandfather under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). However, the plaintiff claimed that his supervisor then became so hostile to him that he required personal time off because of the stress. He took FMLA leave and never returned to work. The defendant eventually terminated his employment for his failure to return to work or provide a return date.
On July 17, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor the employer-defendant in a disability discrimination lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), in which the employee-plaintiff alleged that the defendant violated the ADA by failing to accommodate her disability. Kotaska v. Federal Express Corporation, No. 19-2730 (7th Cir. July 17, 2020). The defendant twice terminated the employment of the plaintiff because she could not lift up to 75 pounds. The first time, she was limited to lifting only 60 pounds after a shoulder injury. Eventually, her condition improved so that she could lift 75 pounds to her waist, and she was rehired. Within three weeks, the defendant terminated her again, after it learned that her capabilities above the waist remained severely limited.
On July 15, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of an employer-defendant in an age and race discrimination and retaliation case under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Henderson v. Wilkie, Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, No. 19-1369 (7th Cir. July 15, 2020). The case went to trial on the plaintiff's claim that he was not selected for a promotion on the basis of his race. The other claims were decided against the plaintiff on summary judgment. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant, and the district court entered final judgment. The plaintiff appealed on evidentiary grounds.
On July 1, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in an age discrimination lawsuit filed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Tyburski v. City of Chicago, No. 18-3000 (7th Cir. July 1, 2020). The plaintiff, a City of Chicago employee, applied for a promotion when he was age seventy-four, but the city rejected his application. He filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the city violated the ADEA by denying him the promotion because of his age. He also filed a claim for age-based workplace harassment under the ADEA. The 7th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff failed to present evidence that his age, rather than his failing test score for the promotion, was the reason he was denied the promotion. In addition, the 7th Circuit ruled that he did not supply evidence that the alleged age-based harassment was severe or pervasive, which is required to support a hostile work environment claim.
On April 7, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff against her former employer in a national origin discrimination lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Vega v. Chicago Park District, Nos. 19-1926 & 19-1939 (7th Cir. April 7, 2020). The plaintiff alleged that the defendant discriminated against her because of her national origin, in violation of Title VII. After a seven-day jury trial, the jury returned a verdict in her favor and awarded her compensatory damages in the amount of $750,000. The district court remitted her award to $300,000, which is the statutory maximum under Title VII for compensatory damages. The court also awarded the plaintiff back pay in the amount of $154,707 in lost salary and $1,200 in lost bonuses, plus lost benefits in the amount of $9,255 in substituted health insurance premiums, as well as a tax-component award, and reinstatement of employment. The 7th Circuit affirmed all of the district court's rulings, except its grant of the tax-component award.
On March 27, 2020, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed the findings and decision of the Illinois Human Rights Commission ("Commission") against a former employee on her claims of age and disability discrimination under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). Burns v. Bombela-Tobias, 2020 IL App (1st) 182309. Although the appellate court concluded that the record as a whole supported the Commission's findings, it also criticized the Commission's legal analysis, and stated Illinois employment law with respect to age and disability discrimination claims under the IHRA.