7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer on Title VII Retaliation Claim

On February 7, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment in favor of the employer-defendant in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged retaliation for complaining about discrimination in the workplace.  Robertson v. State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services, et al., No. 19-1179 (7th Cir. Feb. 7, 2020).  The plaintiff's retaliation claim failed due to lack of evidence of a causal connection between her protected activity--reporting discrimination--and the defendant's decision to not promote her, and because she did not establish that she suffered an adverse job action.

Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee on the basis of race or sex, among other protected classifications.  Title VII also provides that it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee because she filed a complaint, participated in an investigation of, or otherwise opposed an unlawful employment practice.  To prevail on a Title VII retaliation claim, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) she engaged in protected activity; (2) the employer took a materially adverse employment action against her; and (3) there was a "but-for" causal connection between the two.  If a plaintiff establishes a prima facie claim of retaliation, the employer may produce evidence of a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for its adverse employment action.  If the employer does so, the plaintiff must produce evidence that the employer's proffered reason was not its real reason, but was pretext for retaliation.  Pretext does not involve the fairness or accuracy of an employer's proffered reason.  The issue is whether the proffered reason was dishonest. 

The 7th Circuit held that the defendant provided a legitimate, non-retaliatory, non-pretextual reason for choosing another candidate instead of the plaintiff for the subject promotion, and that the plaintiff did not suffer a materially adverse employment action.