U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois

7th Circuit Affirms Dismissal of ADA Complaint

On March 31, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court which granted the defendant's motion to dismiss an ADA complaint for failure to state a cause of action.  Roberts, et al. v. City of Chicago, No. 15-1963 (7th Cir., 3/31/2016).  The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago alleging disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").  The plaintiffs, who applied for but were denied positions as firefighters after they failed their initial medical screenings, claimed that the City's failure to hire them violated the ADA.  The district court dismissed the plaintiffs' complaint because it failed to allege that the plaintiffs were not hired because of their disabilities, and, therefore, failed to allege a violation of the ADA.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Employment Discrimination Claims

On April 6, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her employment was unlawfully terminated on the basis of her sex, race and national origin.  Chaib v. The GEO Group, Inc., No. 15-1614 (7th Cir., 4/6/2016).  The defendant contended that it fired the plaintiff for "unbecoming conduct" because she allegedly improperly extended her medical leave after a workplace injury.  She alleged that she was a victim of employment discrimination as well as retaliation for internal complaints of workplace discrimination that she had submitted to the defendant's human resources department.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment in Sex Discrimination Lawsuit

On April 14, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII gender discrimination case, in which a female deputy sheriff alleged that she was unlawfully discharged from employment on the basis of her gender.  Kuttner v. Zaruba, et al., No. 14-3812 (7th Cir., 4/14/2016).  On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the district court unduly restricted discovery and improperly granted summary judgment.  The plaintiff allegedly was discharged for misconduct--wearing her official uniform and badge while trying to collect from someone who owed money to her boyfriend--in violation of departmental regulations.  She filed a Charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that the sheriff had discriminated against her on the basis of her sex and, after she received a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC, she filed a federal lawsuit claiming sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Modified Burden of Proof for Reverse Discrimination Claims

On March 10, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendant in an employment lawsuit in which a white male postal worker alleged that he was a victim of reverse race discrimination, age discrimination, and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").  Formella v. Brennan, No. 15-1402 (7th Cir., 3/10/2016).  The plaintiff argued that he established a claim of reverse discrimination based on the denial of a transfer to a favorable position and the selection of an allegedly less qualified non-white employee for the position.  The traditional indirect burden-shifting method of proof enunciated in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green is modified in the 7th Circuit by Mills v. Health Care Services Corp. for reverse discrimination cases.  A reverse discrimination plaintiff must establish that: (1) background circumstances exist to create an inference that the employer has reason or inclination to discriminate invidiously against whites, or evidence that there is something "fishy" about the facts at hand; (2) he or she was meeting the employer's legitimate performance expectations; (3) he or she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) he or she was treated less favorably than similarly situated individuals who are not members of his or her protected class.  Under the modified reverse discrimination standard, the plaintiff, rather than merely alleging that he or she is a member of a protected class, is required to present background circumstances showing that the employer or decision-maker had a reason or motivation to discriminate against whites.  Notably, this is a heightened standard of proof for reverse discrimination claims.

Federal Judge Rules that Sexual Orientation is not a Protected Class under Title VII

On January 20, 2016, a United States District Court Judge for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed a claim for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation on the ground that sexual orientation is not a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").  Igasaki v. Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, et al., No. 15-cv-03693 (N.D.Ill., 1/20/2016).  The plaintiff alleged that he was subjected to discrimination based on his race, sex, age, and disability, and that he was retaliated against for complaining about his mistreatment.  He alleged that a supervisor harassed him on the basis of his sex after the supervisor allegedly learned of his sexual orientation.  The defendants argued that what the plaintiff attempted to characterize as a sex discrimination claim was actually a claim for discrimination on the basis of his sexual orientation, and, therefore, must be dismissed because sexual orientation discrimination is not actionable under Title VII.  The judge agreed with the defendants, citing Hamner v. St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Care Ctr., Inc., 224 F.3d 701, 704 (7th Cir. 2000) as precedent that harassment based solely upon a person's sexual preference or sexual orientation (and not on one's sex) is not an unlawful employment practice under Title VII.

Federal and Illinois Courts Disagree About What Makes Non-Compete Clauses in Employment Contracts Enforceable

There is a judicial split between federal judges in the Northern District of Illinois and the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, on the issue of whether two years of continued employment is required for adequate consideration to support a non-competition provision in an employment contract under Illinois law.  In 2013, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, held that (absent other consideration) at least two years of employment is required as consideration to support a non-compete or non-solicitation clause in an employment agreement.  Fifield v. Premier Dealer Servs., Inc., 373 Ill.Dec. 379, 993 N.E.2d 938 (Ill.App.1st Dist. 2013).  Otherwise, the non-compete or non-solicitation provision is unenforceable for lack of consideration, even if the employee left employment voluntarily.

7th Circuit Clarifies Pleading Standards for Title VII and ADA Discrimination Complaints

On December 28, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed the dismissal of an employment discrimination lawsuit.  Tate v. SCR Medical Transportation, No. 15-1447 (7th Cir., 12/28/2015).  The pro se plaintiff had alleged that the defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his sex and disability, and retaliated against him for complaining about discrimination.  The district court dismissed the suit (without allowing the plaintiff to amend the complaint) on the ground that the complaint failed to state a claim because it lacked specificity.  The 7th Circuit held that the complaint satisfied the "undemanding standard" for the plaintiff's Title VII employment discrimination case, in which he had adequately alleged sexual harassment, discrimination on the basis of sex, and retaliation for engaging in protected activity.  Indeed, a complaint of sex discrimination must only allege that the employer took a specific adverse employment action against the plaintiff on the basis of her or his sex.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on ADA and Title VII Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

On December 21, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order summary judgment in favor of the defendant entered by the district court in a Title VII and ADA lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her employer discharged her from employment because of her disability, race and gender, as well as in retaliation for filing an EEOC Charge and a worker's compensation claim.  Carothers v. County of Cook et al., No. 15-1915 (7th Cir., 12/21/2015).  The plaintiff alleged disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), as well as race discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").  To establish a valid claim for disability discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) she is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) she is able to perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) the employer took adverse job action against her on the basis of her disability.

Employment Separation Agreement with Release of Claims in Exchange for Severance Valid and Enforceable

On December 17, 2015, the 7th Circuit upheld an important employment law ruling of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, that an employment separation agreement which provides an employee with severance payments in exchange for a release of employment discrimination, retaliation and other employment law claims, and which contains the other standard terms typically found in a severance agreement, is valid and enforceable.  CVS v. EEOC, No. 14-3653 (7th Cir., 12/17/2015).  This decision provides employers with valuable guidance on drafting legally effective employment separation agreements, because it spells out the terms of a severance or separation agreement which a court will enforce.  It also rejects the argument advanced by the EEOC, that standard severance agreements constitute a pattern and practice of discrimination in violation of Title VII because they discourage employees from filing EEOC charges.

7th Circuit Affirms and Reverses in part "Regarded As" ADA Claims

On July 30, 2015, the 7th Circuit published an opinion in an employment discrimination lawsuit that was filed against a college by a professor under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") Silk v. Board of Trustees, Moraine Valley Community College, No. 14-2405 (7th Cir. July 30, 2015).  Under the ADA, it is unlawful for a covered employer to take adverse job action against a qualified employee on the basis of his or her: (1) disability, (2) record of disability, or (3) the employer's perception of the employee as disabled.  The employee alleged that the employer terminated his employment and took various other adverse job actions against him on the basis of its decision-makers' perception of him as disabled.

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