On August 2, 2017, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of summary judgment in a sexual harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit that was filed in federal court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). Nischan v. Stratosphere Quality, LLC et al., No. 16-3464 (7th Cir. 8/2/2017). The plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to unlawful sexual harassment in her employment, and that she was fired in retaliation for filing a complaint about it. The 7th Circuit held that the plaintiff offered sufficient evidence to support her sexual harassment claim to survive summary judgment. The plaintiff alleged that a co-worker relentlessly sexually harassed her, including unwelcome sexual advances and sexual propositions as well as offensive, outrageous physical touchings of private areas of her body, and sexually offensive comments and questions. She also alleged that managerial level employees knew about the sexual harassment, but failed to do anything about it.
U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois
On July 31, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury award of $225,000 in damages to a terminated employee-plaintiff who sued his former employer for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Stragapede v. City of Evanston, Illinois, No. 16-1344 (7th Cir. 7/31/2017). The plaintiff worked in the City of Evanston Water Department for 14 years. After he suffered a traumatic brain injury at home, the City placed him on temporary leave of absence. When he was cleared to return to work, he resumed full-time employment, but just a few weeks later, the City again placed him on administrative leave and subsequently terminated his employment. In federal court, the plaintiff alleged that the City discriminated against him and terminated his employment because of his disability.
On July 20, 2017, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of the district court that had dismissed Title VII claims for hostile work environment, disparate treatment and retaliation. Alamo v. Bliss et at., No. 15-2849 (7th Cir. 7/20/2017). The plaintiff, a Hispanic City of Chicago firefighter, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit in federal court. He alleged various forms of unlawful discrimination on the basis of his national origin under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), a failure to accommodate claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and a retaliation claim under Title VII. The district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim, and dismissed all of the plaintiff's federal claims.
On April 6, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of an employer in a lawsuit filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") in which the plaintiff, a hotel desk clerk, alleged that his former employer failed to accommodate his alleged disability, discriminated against him on account of his alleged disability, and fired him in retaliation for complaining about related work conditions. Hirmiz v. New Harrison Hotel Corp., d/b/a Travelodge Hotel Chicago, No. 16-3915 (7th Cir. 4/6/2017). The employer claimed that it fired him after he was caught on video sleeping in the hotel lobby while a fight broke out among several hotel guests. The district court granted summary judgment on the grounds that he had failed to present evidence that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, that he had not engaged in any protected activity before his termination, and that the complaint he'd filed with OSHA had not played any role in his employment termination.
On March 24, 2017, the 7th Circuit reversed the dismissal of a complaint which alleges that employers jointly employed, as a supervisor, an employee with a known history of sexually harassing, verbally abusing, and physically intimidating his young female subordinates; and that they failed to take reasonable steps in response to multiple complaints of sexual harassment against him as well as other misconduct known to more senior managers. Anicich v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., et al., No. 16-1693 (7th Cir. 3/24/2017). In this decision, the 7th Circuit clarifies and explains the scope of Illinois employers' tort liability for intentional torts committed by their supervisors against other employees, where the employer has been negligent. Illinois law permits recovery from employers whose negligent hiring, supervision, or retention of their employees causes injury.
On January 13, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a wage discrimination lawsuit in which the plaintiff claimed that she was denied a pay increase and subjected to disparate pay on the basis of her age, sex and race, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), and the Equal Pay Act ("EPA"). David v. Board of Trustees of Community College District No. 508, No. 15-2132 (7th Cir. 1/13/2017). She alleged that employees who were younger, non-African-American, or male were paid more than she was paid for equivalent work.
On December 22, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to the defendant on a claim under Illinois law that it violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing by failing to pay the plaintiff his bonuses under his employment contract. Wilson v. Career Education Corporation, No. 16-1063 (7th Cir. 12/22/2016). The plaintiff alleged that the defendant owed him the payment of bonuses under an incentive compensation provision in his employment agreement. He alleged that the defendant violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, which is implied in all contracts under Illinois law. The bonus plan explicitly reserved to the company the right to terminate or amend the plan at any time for any reason at its sole discretion. However, this type of discretionary provision in a bonus plan is still subject to the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and, therefore, does not provide a company with absolute unfettered discretion to terminate an employee's bonus payments.
Here is a look back at 2016 7th Circuit employment law decisions, including significant trends and changes in employment law in the 7th Circuit, as well as a tally of decisions affirming and reversing summary judgments in employment law cases. Notably, in 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed orders of summary judgment in 22 employment law cases, but reversed orders of summary judgment in only 5 employment law cases (10 calendar days remain, so the numbers may change). But as of this date the ratio is 4.4/1, i.e., 4.4 summary judgments were affirmed for every 1 summary judgment that was reversed. Put another way, of the 27 employment law summary judgments on appeal to the 7th Circuit in 2016, 81.5% were affirmed, while 18.5% were reversed. The 27 cases include employment discrimination, harassment, failure-to-accommodate, and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Rehabilitation Act, Section 1981, the Illinois Human Rights Act, and Illinois common law.
On November 29, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in a retaliatory discharge and sexual harassment case in which the jury awarded a terminated employee $250,000 in punitive damages and $57,000 in compensatory damages. Gracia v. Sigmatron International, Inc., No. 15-3311 (7th Cir. 11/29/2016). The plaintiff sued her former employer for sexual harassment and for terminating her in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. The jury found in favor of the employer on the sexual harassment claim, but returned a verdict for the employee on the retaliation claim. The employee was an assembly line worker who was promoted several times and achieved the position of an assembly supervisor. She reported to Human Resources that her supervisor was sexually harassing her and filed a Charge of Discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging sex and national origin discrimination. Six weeks after her first complaint to HR about her supervisor's sexual harassment and two weeks after the company received her EEOC Charge, the company terminated her employment.
On October 27, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") on the ground that the plaintiff's charge of disability discrimination was untimely. Carlson v. Christian Brothers Services, No. 15-3807 (7th Cir. 10/27/2016). The plaintiff, a customer service representative, filed this lawsuit against her former employer alleging disability discrimination. She was in an automobile accident, as a result of which she had to use a cane, and limped. She alleged that she was fired because of a perceived disability--mobility impairment--in violation of the ADA. The courts did not reach the merits of this case because it was thrown out of court based on the untimeliness of the underlying charge of discrimination.