U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

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

On July 13, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in an age discrimination and retaliation lawsuit.  Lauth v. Covance, No. 16-2939 (7th Cir. July 13, 2017).  The plaintiff claimed that the defendant terminated his employment because of his age and in retaliation for his EEOC Charges, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").  The question on appeal was whether a triable issue of fact existed as to whether the defendant terminated the plaintiff because of his age or in retaliation for his protected activity.  The 7th Circuit has discarded the distinction between direct and indirect methods of proof in employment discrimination cases, and has clarified that all evidence must be evaluated as a whole.  The proper inquiry is whether a reasonable jury could determine, based on all the evidence, that the plaintiff's age or protected activity was the cause of his termination.

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.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Title VII Sex Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

On June 20, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a federal lawsuit in which the former employee plaintiff alleged that the employer discriminated against her on the basis of her sex, female, and retaliated against her on account of her prior complaints of employment discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").  Nicholson v. City of Peoria, Illinois, et al., No. 16-4162 (7th Cir. June 20, 2017).  In this case the plaintiff, a Peoria police officer, alleged that she was not reappointed to a certain position because of her sex, in violation of Title VII.  The 7th Circuit, in its opinion, reiterated that it has "entirely done away with the distinction between 'direct' and 'indirect' evidence and methods of proof for Title VII discrimination claims....Evidence is evidence.  Relevant evidence must be considered and irrelevant evidence disregarded, but no evidence should be treated differently from other evidence because it is labeled 'direct' or 'indirect'."  The proper legal standard at the summary judgment stage for a Title VII employment discrimination claim "is simply whether the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that [the plaintiff's] sex caused her reassignment."

Title VII Race Discrimination and Retaliation Claims Fail

On June 19, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff, an elementary school principal, alleged that her employment contract was not renewed because of her race and in retaliation for her protected activity.  Ferrill v. Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District, et al., No. 15-3805 (7th Cir. June 19, 2017).  The plaintiff sued the School Board alleging racial discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").  The 7th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff was not meeting the Board's legitimate performance expectations and therefore failed to establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination.  The retaliation claim failed for lack of evidence of a causal connection between the Board's decision and any protected activity.

FMLA Retaliation Claim Fails

On June 19, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant employer in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff employee alleged that she was fired in retaliation for exercising her right to take a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA").  Tibbs v. Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, No. 16-1671 (7th Cir. June 19, 2017).  The FMLA provides eligible employees with the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave of absence for serious medical conditions or other circumstances.  A covered employer is required to restore an employee to her position or an equivalent position upon her return to work from FMLA leave, with certain exceptions.  The FMLA makes it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for exercising her right to take an FMLA leave.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on ADA Lawsuit

On May 4, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") in which the plaintiff, an assistant principal until she injured her knee while restraining a student, alleged that the defendant school district failed to accommodate her disability.  Brown v. Milwaukee Board of School Directors, No. 16-1971 (7th Cir. May 4, 2017)  The ADA requires an employer to provide an employee with a reasonable accommodation as long as the employee has a mental or physical impairment that qualifies as a disability under the ADA and the accommodation enables the employee to perform the essential functions of her job, provided that the accommodation does not result in undue hardship to the employer.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Title VII Race Discrimination Lawsuit

On April 24, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant employer in a Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to hire him as a truck driver because of his race, after his routine drug test was allegedly positive for marijuana use.  Turner v. Hirschbach Motor Lines, No. 15-3263 (7th Cir. April 24, 2017).  The plaintiff alleged that the decision to not hire him was racially discriminatory.  However, he failed to offer evidence that the racial animus of an employee who was involved in the drug testing procedures, but was not a decision-maker on the hiring decision, caused the defendant to not hire him.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on ADA Claims

On April 6, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of an employer in a lawsuit filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") in which the plaintiff, a hotel desk clerk, alleged that his former employer failed to accommodate his alleged disability, discriminated against him on account of his alleged disability, and fired him in retaliation for complaining about related work conditions.  Hirmiz v. New Harrison Hotel Corp., d/b/a Travelodge Hotel Chicago, No. 16-3915 (7th Cir. 4/6/2017).  The employer claimed that it fired him after he was caught on video sleeping in the hotel lobby while a fight broke out among several hotel guests.  The district court granted summary judgment on the grounds that he had failed to present evidence that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, that he had not engaged in any protected activity before his termination, and that the complaint he'd filed with OSHA had not played any role in his employment termination.

In Landmark Decision, the 7th Circuit Rules that Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation is an Actionable Form of Sex Discrimination under Title VII

On April 4, 2017, the 7th Circuit held that employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").  Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, No. 15-1720 (7th Cir. 4/4/2017) (rehearing en banc).  This case was filed by an openly lesbian teacher who alleged that her employer failed to promote her or renew her contract on the basis of her sexual orientation.  The district court dismissed her complaint on the ground that Title VII's prohibition against sex discrimination does not include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  On appeal, in an earlier decision, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court, but later agreed to rehear the issue en banc.  The 7th Circuit is the first federal appellate court to hold that sexual orientation discrimination is actionable under Title VII.

Employer Liability for Negligent Hiring, Supervision or Retention of Dangerous Employees Under Illinois Law

On March 24, 2017, the 7th Circuit reversed the dismissal of a complaint which alleges that employers jointly employed, as a supervisor, an employee with a known history of sexually harassing, verbally abusing, and physically intimidating his young female subordinates; and that they failed to take reasonable steps in response to multiple complaints of sexual harassment against him as well as other misconduct known to more senior managers.  Anicich v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., et al., No. 16-1693 (7th Cir. 3/24/2017).  In this decision, the 7th Circuit clarifies and explains the scope of Illinois employers' tort liability for intentional torts committed by their supervisors against other employees, where the employer has been negligent.  Illinois law permits recovery from employers whose negligent hiring, supervision, or retention of their employees causes injury.

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