U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in Failure-to-Accommodate Lawsuit

On November 23, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service under the Rehabilitation Act, which is the equivalent of the Americans with Disabilities Act for federal employees.  Vargas v. Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General, No. 20-1116 (7th Cir. Nov. 23, 2020).  After he aggravated an old foot injury on the job, the plaintiff was placed on work restrictions that prohibited him from lifting and carrying heavy weights.  This created a problem for him because his job duties included carrying heavy loads and packages.  He requested accommodations from the employer, but without any alternative jobs for him to do, his accommodation request was denied.  Consequently, he had to take paid sick leave for several weeks and eventually went on unpaid leave.  He sued his employer under Title VII for race discrimination and retaliation, and for disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in ADA Lawsuit

On November 4, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), in which the plaintiff claimed that he was dismissed from a police academy because of his actual or perceived disability.  Sandefur v. Thomas J. Dart and Cook County, Illinois, No. 19-2787 (7th Cir. Nov. 4, 2020).  Plaintiff was a corrections officer for the Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois.  The ADA prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.  To establish an ADA claim, a plaintiff must plead and prove that she: (1) was disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) was qualified to perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) suffered an adverse employment action because of her disability.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Defendants in Title VII Lawsuit on Jurisdictional Grounds

On October 21, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendants in a Title VII employment discrimination and retaliation lawsuit, on the ground that the company for which the plaintiff worked had fewer than fifteen employees and, therefore, was not an "employer" subject to Title VII.  Prince v. Appleton Auto, LLC, et al., No. 20-1106 (7th Cir. Oct. 21, 2020).  The defendant company is a member of a network of affiliated but corporately distinct used-car dealerships in Wisconsin.  The plaintiff claimed that his employment termination resulted from unlawful discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").  The plaintiff argued that the court should aggregate the number of employees from the other dealerships to meet the jurisdictional requirement of 15 employees.  The 7th Circuit concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the plaintiff's theory that the court should pierce the corporate veil of the dealership network to aggregate the number of employees so that Title VII would apply.

7th Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment for Employer in Americans with Disabilities Act Lawsuit

On September 14, 2020, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a lawsuit filed by a hearing-impaired train conductor, who alleged that the defendant violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").  Mlsna v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, No. 19-2789 (7th Cir. 9/14/2020).  A railroad policy required that train employees who are exposed to noise of a certain level wear a hearing protection device.  This was not a problem for the plaintiff, until a new federal railroad regulation mandated that train conductors pass a hearing test. The defendant required the plaintiff to take the test wearing a certain hearing protective device, which prevented him from passing the test.  The railroad would not re-certify him, so he lost his job.

Sexual-Orientation Discrimination Actionable under Title VII

On September 4, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged discrimination on the basis of sexual-orientation and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).  Marshall v. Indiana Department of Correction, No. 19-3270 (7th Cir. Sept. 4, 2020).  In its opinion, the 7th Circuit recognized that in Hively v. Ivy Tech Cmty. Coll. of Ind., 853 F.3d 339, 341 (7th Cir. 2017), the 7th Circuit extended Title VII to include sexual-orientation discrimination; and that in Bostock v. Clayton Cty., Ga., 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), the Supreme Court did the same.  According to the Supreme Court, Title VII prohibits employers from firing an employee on the basis of sexual orientation.

7th Circuit Affirms Jury Verdict in Favor of Plaintiff in Title VII Disparate Discipline Lawsuit

On August 11, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff, a terminated employee who claimed that he was fired because of his race, African-American, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").  Morris v. BNSF Railway Company, No. 19-2808 & 19-2913 (7th Cir. Aug. 11, 2020).  The crux of his employment discrimination lawsuit was disparate discipline--that he was disciplined more harshly than similarly situated non-African-American employees who committed the same or similar violations of the same company policy.  Specifically, he claimed that he was subjected to a formal disciplinary process that culminated in his termination, while non-African-American employees were given a more lenient informal disciplinary process that practically guaranteed that they would not be terminated.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in ADA Lawsuit

On August 10, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in a federal lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant violated the ADA by placing him on temporary paid administrative leave and ordering him to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation in connection with a disciplinary incident.  Kurtzhals v. County of Dunn, No. 19-3111 (7th Cir. Aug. 10, 2020).  The plaintiff was employed by the Sheriff's Office of Dunn County, Wisconsin.  After he allegedly threatened physical violence against one of his fellow officers, the County put him on temporary paid administrative leave and ordered him to undergo a fitness-for-duty evaluation.  The plaintiff alleged that his supervisors took this course of action because of his history of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD"), and not because his alleged conduct violated the County's Workplace Violence Policy and implicated public safety.

7th Circuit Explains Associational Disability Discrimination under the ADA

On August 6, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged associational disability discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").  Pierri v. Medline Industries, Inc., No. 19-3356 (7th Cir. Aug. 6, 2020).  The plaintiff was a chemist for the defendant.  Initially, he did well at the company, but problems arose after he asked for accommodations to enable him to take care of his ailing grandfather.  The defendant gave him time off to take care of his grandfather under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").  However, the plaintiff claimed that his supervisor then became so hostile to him that he required personal time off because of the stress.  He took FMLA leave and never returned to work.  The defendant eventually terminated his employment for his failure to return to work or provide a return date.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in Title VII Race Discrimination Lawsuit

On August 5, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII race discrimination lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her teaching contract was not renewed on account of her race.  Allen-Noll v. Madison Area Technical College, et al., No. 19-2639 (7th Cir. Aug. 5, 2020).  When her teaching contract with the MATC was not renewed, the plaintiff sued her former employer, alleging racial discrimination and harassment.  The primary adverse employment action that the plaintiff claimed to have suffered was the college's decision to not renew her contract.  However, she offered no evidence that this was because of her race, or in retaliation for her internal complaint of discrimination.  Her allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation were unsupported by any facts.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in ADA Disability Discrimination Employment Termination Lawsuit

On July 20, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a disability discrimination lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").  Tonyan v. Dunham's Athleisure Corporation, No. 19-2939 (7th Cir. July 20, 2020).  The plaintiff worked as a store manager for the defendant.  She sustained a series of injuries that required multiple surgeries and temporary restrictions to her shoulder, arm, and hand movement.  After her doctor imposed permanent restrictions, including one preventing her from lifting more than two pounds with her right arm, the defendant terminated her employment.

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