7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Title VII Discrimination and Retaliation Claims.

On July 14, 2021, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII employment discrimination and retaliation lawsuit, in which the plaintiff alleged that he was disciplined and denied a promotion because of his race and gender as well as in retaliation for opposing unlawful sexual harassment.  Logan v. City of Chicago, et al., No. 20-1669 (7th Cir. July 14, 2021).  Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against any individual with respect to his or her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  For a failure-to-promote claim,

a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) she was a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position; (3) she was rejected for the position; and (4) the position was given to a person outside of her protected class who was similarly or less qualified than she.  If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of employment discrimination, the burden shifts to the defendant to articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action, at which point the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to submit evidence that the employer's explanation is pretextual.  The plaintiff's Title VII race discrimination claim failed because the defendant's proffered reasons for disciplining him were sufficiently nondiscriminatory.  An independent arbitrator determined that he had committed misconduct sufficient to give rise to discipline.  To establish pretext, the plaintiff must show that: (1) the employer's non-discriminatory reason was dishonest; and (2) the employer's true reason was based on a discriminatory intent.  The 7th Circuit concluded that other than the fact that he is a member of a protected class, there was no evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that his race caused him to be disciplined and therefore not promoted.

The plaintiff also claimed that he was singled out for improper discipline in retaliation for opposing unlawful sexual harassment.  Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because he or she has opposed any unlawful employment practice, or because he or she has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing.  To advance a Title VII retaliation claim, a plaintiff must introduce evidence of: (1) a statutorily protected activity; (2) a materially adverse employment action; and (3) a causal connection between the two.  To satisfy the first element, the plaintiff must have: (1) a subjective, sincere, good faith belief that he or she opposed an unlawful employment practice; and (2) his or her belief must also be objectively reasonable, which means that his or her complaint must involve discrimination that is prohibited by Title VII.  Even if the plaintiff in this case had a subjective belief that he was opposing an unlawful employment practice, his belief was not objectively reasonable because the two individuals involved in his purported opposition to sexual harassment--the alleged harasser and the alleged victim--did not have the same employer.  A defendant may be liable for sexual harassment under Title VII only if a plaintiff can establish the existence of an employer-employee relationship.  Because the two individuals did not share the same employer, the plaintiff failed to show that his belief, that he was opposing an unlawful employment practice, was objectively reasonable.