7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in Age and Race Discrimination Lawsuit

On June 27, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's order granting the defendant-employer's motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims for age discrimination, race discrimination and retaliation.  Fields v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, et al., No. 17-3136 (7th Cir. June 27, 2019).  The plaintiff, a Chicago Public School teacher, sued the Board of Education and the principal of the school where she worked, alleging that they discriminated against her based on her race and age and retaliated against her for filing this lawsuit, in violation of Section 1981 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").  The district court entered summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff did not suffer an adverse employment action, which is a required element of an employment discrimination claim.

On her discrimination claims, the plaintiff contended that she suffered an adverse employment action because she was constructively discharged.  There are two types of constructive discharge.  The first is when a plaintiff resigns due to discriminatory working conditions even more egregious than that required for a hostile work environment claim.  The second occurs when an employer acts in a manner that would make clear to a reasonable employee that she will be immediately fired if she does not resign.  The plaintiff could not establish that she was constructively discharged.  She offered no evidence that she was subjected to a threat of violence or other conditions that are more severe than those required to establish a hostile work environment.  She also presented no evidence that her working conditions were objectively intolerable.  Although she argued that she felt compelled because of her doctor's advice not to return to work following her leave of absence, there was no evidence that a reasonable employee would have felt compelled to retire or quit under those circumstances.  In addition, she presented no evidence of any actions of the employer that would put a reasonable employee on notice of her imminent firing.  The standard for constructive discharge is an objective one.  Moreover, the plaintiff's argument that her negative performance reviews and performance improvement plans constitute adverse employment actions is incorrect.  She did not otherwise experience anything else that rises to the level of a materially adverse employment action.  Absent evidence that she suffered an adverse job action, the plaintiff's discrimination and retaliation claims necessarily failed.