On February 17, 2021, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a federal employment discrimination lawsuit for age, sex, race, and disability discrimination, as well as retaliation. Igasaki v. Illinois Department Of Financial And Professional Regulation, No. 18-3351 (7th Cir. 2/17/2021). The plaintiff, a 62-year-old gay Japanese man with gout, worked as a staff attorney for the State of Illinois. He alleged five claims: (1) race discrimination based on his Asian ethnicity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), arising from the treatment of his job performance and his employment termination; (2) sex discrimination in violation of Title VII, arising from gender stereotyping and a hostile work environment based on his sexual orientation; (3) age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), arising from the treatment of his job performance and employment termination; (4) retaliation in violation of Title VII, arising from his employment termination after he filed his EEOC charge of discrimination; and (5) disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), arising from the failure to accommodate his gout disability.
U.S. Supreme Court
On January 22, 2021, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in an age discrimination lawsuit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Marnocha v. St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care Center, Inc., No. 20-1374 (7th Cir. Jan. 22, 2021). The plaintiff, a neonatologist, alleged that the defendant terminated her employment and failed to rehire her for an open position in the context of a reduction-in-force. The ADEA was enacted by Congress in 1967 to protect older workers from employment discrimination. The ADEA protects employees who are age 40 or older. It is unlawful for employers to take adverse employment action against employees who are in the protected age class because of their age.
On April 6, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion regarding the legal standards governing age discrimination claims for federal sector employees under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Babb v. Wilkie, 589 U.S. __ (2020). Under the ADEA, private sector employees must prove that age was the "but for" cause of the subject adverse employment action. However, the ADEA contains certain statutory language specific to federal sector employees that warrants a variation on the legal standard. The Supreme Court held that the federal-sector provision of the ADEA requires that personnel actions be "untainted by any consideration of age." However, to obtain damages arising from the end result of an employment decision, a federal sector employee must still satisfy the "but for" causation standard.
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.
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.
On June 3, 2019, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the requirement under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") that a complainant must first file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") as a precondition to the commencement of a Title VII lawsuit in court is not jurisdictional. Ford Bend County, Texas v. Davis, 587 U.S. ___ (2019). Title VII proscribes employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Title VII also prohibits retaliation against persons who assert rights under the statute. As a precondition to filing a Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit in court, a complainant must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. The Supreme Court considered whether Title VII's charge-filing precondition is a jurisdictional requirement that may be raised by the defense at any stage of a lawsuit, or a procedural prescription mandatory if timely raised, but subject to waiver if not timely raised. In an opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg, the Supreme Court held that the charge-filing precondition is not jurisdictional. Consequently, a plaintiff's failure to file a charge of discrimination before filing a Title VII lawsuit must be timely raised as an objection or a defense early in the lawsuit. Otherwise, the objection or defense may be forfeited.
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 November 29, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit in which the plaintiff, a federal employee, alleged that his employer retaliated against him for filing an EEO complaint. Lewis v. Wilkie, No. 18-1702 (7th Cir. 11/29/2018). The plaintiff's employment had previously been terminated, but after a successful Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaint, he was reinstated to his former position as a cook. He alleged that upon reinstatement, he was subjected to retaliation for his EEO activity through a variety of employment actions. The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court's conclusion that none of the retaliatory actions alleged by the plaintiff constituted a materially adverse employment action.
On October 22, 2018, the 7th Circuit ruled that the district court erred in invalidating a waiver clause in the parties' arbitration agreement, vacated the district court's order enforcing a $10 million arbitration award in a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act for multiple wage claims, and remanded the case to the district court to conduct the threshold inquiry regarding class or collective arbitrability to determine whether the arbitration clause of the employment agreement authorizes collective arbitration. Herrington, et al. v. Waterstone Mortgage Corporation, No. 17-3609 (7th Cir. 10/22/2018). The plaintiff-employee filed a collective action against her employer for alleged minimum wage and overtime wage and hour violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). A collective action allows similarly situated employees to opt in to the lawsuit. The district court compelled arbitration pursuant to the arbitration agreement between the employer and employee, but struck down as unlawful a waiver clause that appeared to forbid class or collective arbitration of the plaintiff's claims. The arbitrator conducted a collective arbitration over the employer's objections and awarded more than $10 million in damages and attorneys' fees to the plaintiff and 174 similarly situated employees.
On May 21, 2018, the United States Supreme Court, in a landmark employment law decision, held that arbitration agreements providing for individualized arbitration proceedings to resolve labor disputes must be enforced. Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 584 U.S. __ (2018). Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, in which Justices Roberts, Thomas, Alito and Kennedy joined. The case involved employers and employees who entered into employment contracts providing for individualized arbitration proceedings to resolve employment law disputes. The employees nonetheless sought to litigate Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") wage and hour claims through class or collective actions in federal court. The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") generally requires courts to enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms unless they are invalid under contract law. However, the employees argued that the FAA's savings clause removes the requirements to enforce arbitration agreements if the arbitration agreement violates some other federal law; and that by requiring individualized arbitration proceedings to resolve wage and hour claims, which would preclude employees' rights to litigate labor claims on a class-wide or collective basis, the arbitration agreements violated the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") and therefore are invalid and unenforceable. The majority rejected the employees' arguments, stating that the employment law arbitration agreements "must be enforced" and that "neither the Arbitration Act's savings clause nor the NLRA suggest otherwise."