7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Title VII Retaliation Claim

On August 14, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit filed by a Cook County correctional officer, who alleged that two County employees subjected her to unlawful racial and sexual harassment, and that division supervisors unlawfully retaliated against her for filing grievances by reassigning her to work alongside one of the alleged harassers.  Emerson v. Dart, Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, et al., No. 17-2614 (7th Cir. 8/14/2018).  During the litigation, she posted a threat on a Facebook group that she would sue anyone who testified against her, for which she was sanctioned.

To state a retaliation claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must prove that she engaged in protected activity, suffered an adverse employment action, and that there is a causal connection between the two.  While the filing of an internal complaint with an employer may constitute protected activity under Title VII, the complaint must state that the discrimination occurred because of the employee's sex, race, national origin, or some other protected class.  The plaintiff's second grievance did not constitute protected activity because it did not allege that she was harassed because of her race, sex, or other protected characteristic.  Although her first grievance did qualify as protected activity, her retaliation claim based on her first grievance failed because she did not present evidence that the alleged retaliators had actual knowledge of her first grievance and, therefore, she could not establish that they harbored the retaliatory motive necessary for a Title VII retaliation claim.