U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

7th Circuit Affirms Jury Verdict for Plaintiff-Employee in FMLA Lawsuit

On November 12, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff-employee who sued the defendant-employer for violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").  Valdivia v. Township High School District 214, No. 19-1410 (7th Cir. 11/12/2019).  The plaintiff claimed that the defendant interfered with her rights under the FMLA by failing to provide her with notice or information about her right to take job-protected leave.  After a jury trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her $12,000 in damages.  The plaintiff informed her supervisor that she was considering leaving for medical reasons.  She submitted a letter of resignation but shortly thereafter asked to rescind her resignation, which request was denied, resulting in the conclusion of her employment.

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.

Employer's Fear that Job Applicant would Develop Future Impairment Not "Regarded-As" Disability Discrimination under the ADA

On October 29, 2019, the 7th Circuit ruled that the "regarded-as" provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") does not encompass conduct motivated by the likelihood that an employee or job applicant will develop a future disability within the scope of the ADA.  Shell v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company, No. 19-1030 (7th Cir. 10/29/2019).  In this case, the defendant refused to hire the plaintiff solely because it believed that his obesity presented an unacceptably high risk that he would develop certain medical conditions in the future that would suddenly incapacitate him on the job.  He filed a lawsuit under the ADA, alleging that the defendant discriminated against him based on disability.  The defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that the ADA's definition of "disability" is not met where an employer regards a job applicant as not presently having a disability, but at high risk of developing one.  The district court denied the motion, ruling that the ADA does reach discrimination based on future impairment.  The 7th Circuit reversed, reaching a contrary conclusion of law.

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

On October 9, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in an age discrimination and retaliation lawsuit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").  McDaniel v. Progress Rail Locomotive, Inc., No. 18-3565 (10/9/2019).  The plaintiff alleged that his former employer unlawfully discriminated against him on the basis of age and retaliated against him for complaining about a superior, in violation of the ADEA.  The plaintiff failed to produce evidence of any substantially younger similarly situated employees who were treated more favorably.

7th Circuit Explains the WARN Act

On September 26, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in a class action lawsuit alleging that it violated the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act ("the Act") by failing to provide a group of employees with sixty days' notice of their "temporary lay-off."  Leeper v. Hamilton County Coal, LLC, No. 19-1109 (7th Cir. 9/26/2019).  The WARN Act requires employers to give affected employees sixty days' notice before imposing a "mass layoff."  The Act defines a "mass layoff" as a "reduction in force" in which at least 33% of a single worksite's full-time workforce, and at least fifty employees suffer an "employment loss."  The district court entered summary judgment for the employer coal company because the worksite did not experience a "mass layoff" as defined by the Act.

Successor Liability for Employment Discrimination Claims under the Illinois Human Rights Act

Successor corporations may be liable for employment discrimination claims against their predecessor corporations under Illinois law.  Department of Human Rights v. Oakridge Nursing & Rehab Center, 2019 IL App 170806 (First Dist. March 11, 2019).  An employee filed a charge of age and disability discrimination under the Illinois Human Rights Act against her employer.  After receiving notice of the charge, the employer transferred substantially all of its assets for no consideration to another related business entity.  The employee obtained a money judgment against the employer, which it failed to satisfy.  The State filed a complaint against the successor entity to enforce compliance with the judgment.  The circuit granted granted summary judgment in favor of the successor entity.  The State appealed.  The Illinois Appellate Court, First District, reversed, holding, in a case of first impression, that Illinois courts shall recognize successor liability for violations of the Illinois Human Rights Act.

7th Circuit Explains Title VII Exhaustion Requirement

On August 28, 2019, the 7th Circuit issued an opinion in which it explained the exhaustion of administrative remedies doctrine for Title VII employment discrimination claims.  Chaidez v. Ford Motor Company, No. 18-2753 (7th Cir. 8/28/2019).  The plaintiffs alleged a racially discriminatory hiring scheme that resulted in a lack of Hispanic and Latino line workers at the defendant's Chicago assembly plant.  The district court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, holding that the plaintiffs' claims were not "like or reasonably related to" the claims alleged in their EEOC charges.  The 7th Circuit concluded that the claims alleged in Count I of the plaintiffs' complaint were not exhausted before the EEOC and therefore affirmed the district court's dismissal of Count I.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Title VII Retaliation Claim

On August 22, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her former employer terminated her employment in retaliation for her complaints of sexual harassment.  Rozumalski v. W.F. Baird & Associates, Ltd., No. 18-3586 (7th Cir. 8/22/2019).  In this case it was undisputed that the plaintiff was sexually harassed by her direct supervisor.  It was also undisputed that when she reported the sexual harassment to the employer, the employer promptly investigated and terminated the alleged harasser.  At issue was whether the employer terminated the plaintiff in retaliation for her role in the alleged harasser's termination.  The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court, that no reasonable jury could find in favor of the plaintiff on her retaliation claims, stating that "while it may be possible for workplace harassment to haunt a victim's ability to succeed long after the incident, the facts that [the plaintiff] has presented do not support a finding of retaliation."

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Title VII Hostile Work Environment and Retaliation Claims

On August 21, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting the defendant-employer's motion for summary judgment in a Title VII lawsuit, in which the plaintiff-former employee alleged that the employer had subjected him to a hostile work environment and discharged him in retaliation for his complaints about racial discrimination, in violation of Title VII.  Smith v. Illinois Department of Transportation, No. 18-2948 (7th Cir. 8/21/2019).  To survive summary judgment on his retaliation claim, the plaintiff was required to show that a reasonable jury could find that he engaged in protected activity, that he suffered an adverse employment action, and that the adverse action was motived by a protected activity.  The only issue was whether the employer terminated the plaintiff because he complained about racial discrimination.  The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court, that a reasonable jury could not find in Smith's favor.  Because there was extensive evidence that the plaintiff failed to meet his employer's legitimate expectations, a reasonable jury could not find that the employer fired him for his protected activity, rather than for his poor job performance.

7th Circuit Upholds Employee Arbitration Agreement

On August 19, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court that granted an employer's motion to compel arbitration pursuant to an employee arbitration agreement that required arbitration of employment-related disputes.  Gupta v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC, et al., No. 18-3584 (7th Cir. 8/19/2019).  The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against his former employer for employment discrimination and retaliation.  The company moved to compel arbitration.  It argued that the employee agreed to arbitrate the employment claims after he did not opt out of the company's arbitration agreement.  The plaintiff contended that during his employment, he never saw an arbitration offer or agreed to arbitrate employment-related disputes.

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