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

On June 26, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in a Title VII gender discrimination lawsuit.  Purtue v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections, et al., No. 19-2706 (7th Cir. June 26, 2020).  The plaintiff was discharged from her employment as a correctional officer for falsely claiming that a prisoner hit her with an empty snack cake box that he threw at her from his cell.  The warden dismissed her for making a false report in violation of policy.  She filed a federal lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), alleging that she had been discharged because of her sex, female.  Because she failed to identify evidence from which a reasonable jury could draw that inference, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's entry of summary judgment against her.

The plaintiff asserted claims for sex discrimination under Title VII.  To attempt to defeat the defendant's motion for summary judgment, she assembled a variety of circumstantial evidence.  She contended that the defendant mischaracterized her statements, uncritically adopted the prisoner's version of the events, and exaggerated the potential consequences that the prisoner faced as a result of her misstatements.  She also presented expert testimony that her conduct did not warrant her termination, and a report showing that the defendant had terminated six percent of its female employees, versus three percent of its male employees.

An employment discrimination plaintiff is not required to rely on the burden-shifting evidentiary framework under McDonnell Douglas.  She may instead present either direct or circumstantial evidence that raises an inference of intentional discrimination, such as ambiguous or suggestive comments or conduct, disparate treatment, and dishonest employer justifications.  The evidence must be considered as a whole, rather than asking whether any particular piece of evidence proves the case by itself. 

In this case, the security camera footage belied the plaintiff's version of the incident.  Her evidence was insufficient to raise any genuine issue of material fact as to the defendant's reason for her discharge.  The 7th Circuit concluded that she failed to establish that the defendant did anything other than terminate her employment for her admitted violation of the rules.  No reasonable jury could infer that the defendant discriminated against the plaintiff because of her sex.