7th Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment for Employer on Title VII Retaliation Claim

On July 12, 2017, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of the district court that granted summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a Title VII retaliation case, in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant intentionally retaliated against her for complaining about employment discrimination in her 2009 EEOC Charge, when it refused to rehire her in 2014.  Baines v. Walgreen Co., No. 16-3335 (7th Cir. July 12, 2017).  The 7th Circuit stated that, "[t]his appeal provides an example of circumstantial evidence that allows a reasonable inference that an employer acted with unlawful intent."  The circumstantial evidence included evidence that the manager who had handled her earlier EEOC charges intervened in the 2014 decision to not rehire her, and that the manager did so in ways that deviated significantly from the employer's standard hiring procedures.

The employer offered no explanation for the deviation from its established procedures.  In addition, there was evidence that included missing records of the plaintiff's job application and her interview scores, a decision to hire instead someone less qualified, and dishonest answers from the employer's decision-makers when asked to explain their decisions.  The circumstantial evidence was sufficient to support a causal connection between the protected activity (the EEOC Charge) and the adverse employment action (the failure to rehire).  If a jury believes the plaintiff's evidence, it could reasonably find the employer unlawfully retaliated against her.  The defendant argued that the 5-year gap between the protected activity and the adverse job action precluded any causal connection between the two.  However, while suspiciously close timing between the protected activity and adverse job action may raise an inference of retaliation, a lengthy gap of time will not defeat a retaliation claim when there is other evidence of retaliation.  Particularly damning for an employer are dishonest explanations for the employment decision.  Unlawful discrimination or retaliation may be inferred from the falsity of an employer's stated reasons for an adverse employment action.