U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

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.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in ADA Reasonable Accommodation Action

On June 26, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting the defendant-employer's motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her former employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") by rescinding her long-standing work-from-home reasonable accommodation, and requiring her to relocate to another state to work face-to-face.  Bilinsky v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 18-3107 (7th Circuit June 26, 2019).  The plaintiff was employed by the defendant for more than two decades.  After she contracted multiple sclerosis ("MS"), the defendant provided her with a work-from-home arrangement as a reasonable accommodation for her disability.  The accommodation permitted the plaintiff to perform her administrative job from her home in Chicago, even though her colleagues operated out of the company headquarters in Dallas.  The defendant claimed that after a major corporate merger with another airline, it restructured its operations and informally "re-purposed" the plaintiff's department.

7th Circuit Reverses 12(b)(6) Dismissal of Complaint for Title VII Race Discrimination and ADA Disability Discrimination and Retaliation.

On June 14, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of a complaint in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant terminated his employment because of his race and disability, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").  Freeman v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, No. 18-3737 (7th Cir. June 14, 2019).  The plaintiff, an African-American man who suffers from alcoholism, sued his former employer for firing him because of his race and disability.  The district court dismissed his complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).  The Seventh Circuit, however, concluded that the plaintiff has pleaded enough to state his claims.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in Title VII Retaliation Lawsuit.

On June 13, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in a Title VII retaliation case in which the plaintiff-employee alleged that he was constructively discharged in retaliation for complaining about a racially charged employment incident.  Mollet v. City of Greenfield, No. 18-3685 (7th Cir. June 13, 2019).  The question in every retaliation case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") is whether the statutorily protected activity was the "but-for" cause of the adverse employment action.  In this case, the 7th Circuit agreed with the district court that it wasn't.  Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for complaining about discrimination.  The plaintiff, a firefighter, argued that the defendant fire department retaliated against him for complaining about a discriminatory incident involving a co-worker.  To establish a retaliation claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) he engaged in protected activity; (2) his employer took a materially adverse employment action against him; and (3) there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse job action.

7th Circuit Holds that Extreme Obesity does not Qualify as a Disability Under the ADA Unless it is Caused by an Underlying Physiological Disorder or Condition.

On June 12, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in an action under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), in which the plaintiff, a CTA bus driver, alleged that the CTA took adverse employment action against him because of his extreme obesity, in violation of the ADA.  Richardson v. Chicago Transit Authority, Nos. 17-3508 & 18-2199 (7th Cir. June 12, 2019).  The Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court, that extreme obesity only qualifies as a disability under the ADA if it is caused by an underlying physiological disorder or condition.  The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against a qualified individual on the basis of disability.  To succeed on an ADA claim, an employee must show: (1) she is disabled; (2) she is otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) the adverse employment action was caused by her disability.

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