7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in Title VII Lawsuit

On January 19, 2021, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit alleging wrongful termination on the basis of national origin, race, and religion, as well as unlawful retaliation.  Khungar v. Access Community Health Network, No. 20-1958 (Jan. 19, 2021).  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, color, and genetic information.  To defeat a summary judgment motion in a Title VII case, a plaintiff must raise factual disputes sufficient to support a reasonable finding of discrimination by a jury.  A plaintiff may prove employment discrimination with direct or circumstantial evidence under the direct or indirect burden-shifting method.

The burden-shifting method of proof was used in this case, with its familiar elements.  The district court found that the plaintiff was not meeting her employer's performance expectations, and that her employment was terminated for legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-pretextual reasons.  The 7th Circuit agreed.  In employment discrimination cases that turn on the plaintiff's job performance, the issue is not whether the employer's performance ratings were correct; the issue is whether the employer's description of its reasons is honest.  In analyzing performance, courts are to view the plaintiff's performance through the eyes of her supervisors at the time of termination. 

It should be noted that the 7th Circuit stated that findings entered in Illinois Department of Employment Security ("IDES") proceedings are not admissible in federal civil actions, because they are hearsay and, by statute, have no preclusive effect.  Therefore, the plaintiff could not rely on an IDES decision to oppose the motion for summary judgment.