7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Employment Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

On July 30, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in an age and sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  Hamer v. Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, et al., No. 15-3764 (7th Cir. 7/30/2018).  The plaintiff was passed over for a promotion in favor of a younger, male colleague.  Believing that this adverse employment action constituted age and sex discrimination, she met with the Director of Human Resources, and informed her of her intention to file a charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Subsequent communications ensued between various managerial personnel regarding the non-promotion and related personnel issues in connection with the plaintiff, then employee, who was subsequently given an ultimatum to accept a demotion or resign her employment.  She resigned, and filed an EEOC charge, followed by a federal lawsuit.

On appeal, the 7th Circuit considered the merits of the plaintiff's retaliation claim--that she was allegedly forced to resign in retaliation for complaining about what she believed was unlawful discrimination, and indicating to the HR Director that she intended to file an EEOC charge.  The 7th Circuit found that the plaintiff failed to establish the required causal link between her protected activity and the adverse job action.  In order to retaliate against a complainant, employment decision-makers must be aware of their complaint.  The HR Director who was aware of the plaintiff's intention to file a charge did not make any adverse employment decision; and the plaintiff could not establish that the actual employment decision-makers had any knowledge of her intention to file a charge (or that the HR Director told them or anyone about it).  The plaintiff's speculation was legally insufficient to raise any genuine issue of material fact to preclude summary judgment.  Without some evidence that the decision-makers had knowledge of her protected activity, the plaintiff's retaliation claim failed.