U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

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.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Failure-to-Accommodate Claim

On August 15, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff-employee alleged violations of the Rehabilitation Act for failure to accommodate.  Yochim v. Carson, Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, No. 8-3670 (7th Cir. 8/15/2019).  The plaintiff worked in the legal department of HUD.  For years, she took advantage of its flexible and progressive policy permitting employees to work from home several days per week.  After undergoing surgery, she requested time off and permission to work from home.  HUD agreed and allowed her time to recover and to telework from home several days a week for many months as she received physical therapy.

7th Circuit Affirms Jury Verdict for Defendant in Gender Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit

On August 14, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the plaintiff's motion for a new trial in a lawsuit alleging unequal pay due to gender discrimination and retaliation.  O'Donnell v. Caine Weiner Company, LLC, No. 18-1826 (7th Cir. 8/14/2019).  The plaintiff lost on all counts at a jury trial.  She filed a motion for a new trial on numerous grounds, including that the allegedly erroneous jury instructions and verdict forms prejudiced her case.  The 7th Circuit affirmed because the plaintiff's arguments on appeal related only to damages, but the jury found against her on liability and, therefore, the alleged errors did not prejudice her case.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Title VII National Origin Discrimination Claim

On August 8, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII national origin discrimination case.  Sterlinski v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, No. 18-2844 (7th Cir. 8/8/2019).  The plaintiff was hired as Director of Music for a  parish, but was demoted to the job of an organist, and subsequently fired.  He claimed in his employment discrimination lawsuit that the defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his Polish heritage.  Until his demotion, he could have been terminated for any reason, because as Director of Music he held substantial authority over the conduct of religious services, and, therefore, would have been treated as a minister for purposes of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutherine Church and School v. EEOC, 565 U.S. 171 (2012), which holds that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not apply to ministers.

Elements of a Title VII Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment Claim

On July 26, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment on a Title VII sexual harassment hostile work environment claim.  Hunt v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 18-3403 (7th Cir. 7/26/2019).  The plaintiff filed a complaint in federal court alleging that a supervisor sexually harassed her by creating a hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII).  A Title VII hostile work environment sexual harassment claim requires a plaintiff to show: (1) the work environment was objectively and subjectively offensive; (2) the harassment complained of was based on gender; (3) the conduct was either severe or pervasive; and (4) there is a basis for employer liability.

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

On July 26, 2019, the 7th Circuit reversed the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit, in which the plaintiff, a former temporary employee, alleged that the employer refused to hire him permanently in retaliation for his complaints of discrimination.  Stepp v. Covance Central Laboratory Services, Inc., No. 18-3292 (7th Cir. 7/26/2019).  Based on the record, a reasonable jury could conclude that the employer refused to promote the temporary employee to permanent status because of and in retaliation for his protected activity of filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.

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

On July 23, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), in which the plaintiff, a former employee of the defendant, claimed that the defendant failed to reasonably accommodate his disability, and terminated his employment because of his disability.  Graham v. Arctic Zone Iceplex, No. 18-3508 (7th Cir. July 23, 2019).  The plaintiff sued his former employer for disability discrimination in violation of the ADA.  The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations that will allow a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of her job.  When an employee requests a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, the employer, as well as the employee, are required to engage in an interactive process to determine a reasonable accommodation.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in Age Discrimination Lawsuit

On July 17, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment on an age discrimination claim in which a bus driver alleged that his employment was terminated because of his age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").  Pickett v. Chicago Transit Authority, No. 18-2785 (7th Cir. July 17, 2019).  After an incident with a bus passenger, the plaintiff took a six month leave of absence while recovering.  After his physician concluded that he could return to work (but not as a driver), the plaintiff requested a light duty assignment.  He was given one, but four days later, he was informed that the defendant was not ready to permit his return to work.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in Age and Race Discrimination Lawsuit

On June 27, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's order granting the defendant-employer's motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims for age discrimination, race discrimination and retaliation.  Fields v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, et al., No. 17-3136 (7th Cir. June 27, 2019).  The plaintiff, a Chicago Public School teacher, sued the Board of Education and the principal of the school where she worked, alleging that they discriminated against her based on her race and age and retaliated against her for filing this lawsuit, in violation of Section 1981 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").  The district court entered summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff did not suffer an adverse employment action, which is a required element of an employment discrimination claim.

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