7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Sex, Age, Race and Disability Discrimination Claims

On November 7, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the employer-defendant in a lawsuit in which a former employee alleged claims for race, sex, age, and disability discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").  McCurry v. Kenco Logistics Services, No. 18-3206 (7th Cir. 11/7/2019).  This case was doomed for many reasons, including that the pro se plaintiff failed to follow the local rules of procedure for the federal court of the Northern District of Illinois.  In any employment discrimination case, the fundamental issue at the summary judgment stage of the litigation is whether the evidence would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that the plaintiff was subjected to adverse employment action based on a statutorily prohibited factor, such as sex, age, race, or disability.

The plaintiff contended that the defendant discriminated against her by paying her less than her white, male coworker.  However, the coworker earned more because he had extensive managerial responsibilities, but she had none.  Thus, the plaintiff's unequal pay claim was baseless.  She also claimed that the defendant discriminated against her by hiring another employee as the human resources manager, which the 7th Circuit analyzed as a failure-to-promote claim.  In order to prevail on a Title VII failure-to-promote claim, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) she was a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position she sought; (3) she was rejected for the position; and (4) the employer promoted someone outside of the protected class who was not better qualified.  Because the plaintiff did not apply for the position of human resources manager, she failed to meet the second and third elements of a failure-to-promote claim and, therefore, her claim was baseless.  She also contended that the reduction of her duties after the other employee was hired was discriminatory.  However, inconveniences and modest alterations of job responsibilities are not adverse employment actions, so this claim failed.  A materially adverse job action is a required element of a Title VII employment discrimination claim.  Additionally, she argued that a warning with which she was given for unauthorized overtime was discriminatory.  But the warning had no impact on her pay or on any terms or conditions of her employment.  Thus, the warning was not an adverse employment action.  Her Title VII retaliation claim failed because she did not engage in any statutorily protected activity for which she could be retaliated against in violation of Title VII.

The plaintiff's ADEA and ADA claims also failed as a matter of law.  The ADEA prohibits an employer from refusing to hire a person who is 40 or older because of her age.  The plaintiff's age discrimination claim was based on the employer's decision to hire the other employee as the human resources manager, who is 17 years younger than she.  However, the plaintiff did not apply for this job, and the other employee was hired because she was far more qualified.  Consequently, there was no evidence to support an age discrimination claim.  The ADA prohibits an employer from discriminating against a qualified person on the basis of disability.  The plaintiff argued that the defendant violated the ADA when her COBRA health insurance costs changed after the layoff and she did not receive COBRA open-enrollment paperwork.  Summary judgment was proper on this claim because a third-party administrator  was responsible for the laid-off employees' COBRA-related benefits.