On February 20, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of an employer in a Title VII racial harassment lawsuit, in which the employee's immediate supervisor made racial epithets directly to the employee. Gates v. Board of Education Of The City of Chicago, No. 17-3143 (7th Cir. Feb. 20, 2019). The plaintiff's supervisor used the N-word twice and threatened to write up his "black ass." The district court applied the wrong legal standard for hostile work environment claims, erroneously stating that "the workplace that is actionable is one that is hellish." However, "[h]ellish is not the standard a plaintiff must satisfy to prevail on a hostile work environment claim."
U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit
On January 29, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a lawsuit alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"), in which the plaintiff-employee claimed that the employer failed to promote, disciplined, and demoted him because of his race and national origin, and in retaliation for his previous internal complaints of employment discrimination and workplace harassment. Cervantes v. Ardagh Group, No. 17-3536 (7th Cir. Jan. 29, 2019). His discrimination claims failed because he did not exhaust his administrative remedies. His retaliation claim failed because he did not engage in protected activity, and there was no evidence of any causal connection between any protected activity and the adverse employment actions.
On January 25, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant in a lawsuit filed in federal court under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Scheidler v. State of Indiana, No. 17-2543 (7th Cir. Jan. 25, 2019). The plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation for her disability and terminated her employment because of her disability, in violation of the ADA. She also alleged that her employment was terminated in retaliation for opposing disability discrimination and sex discrimination, in violation of the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). The ADA prohibits certain types of disability discrimination. The ADA provides that "[N]o covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment."
On January 23, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the protections against disparate impact age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") do not extend to outside job applicants. Kleber v. Carefusion Corp., No. 17-1206 (7th Cir. Jan. 23, 2019). This age discrimination case was filed by a 58-year-old attorney who applied for and was denied a position as an in-house attorney, which was given to a 29-year-old applicant. The job description required 3-7 years, but no more than 7 years, of legal experience. Section 4(a)(2) of the ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer to "limit, segregate or classify employees based on age" in such a way that results in an adverse effect on their "status as an employee." The plain statutory language of the ADEA warrants the conclusion that its protections against disparate impact age discrimination are limited to employees.
On December 18, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in an age discrimination lawsuit filed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Wrolstad v. CUNA Mutual Insurance Society, No. 17-1920 (7th Cir. 12/18/2018). The plaintiff was employed by the defendant for 25 years. His position was eliminated in a corporate restructuring, when he was 52-years-old. He applied for several open positions, but was not rehired. One particular position for which he had applied was given to a 23-year-old. He signed a severance agreement waiving all claims against the defendant in exchange for 50 weeks of severance pay. Subsequently, he filed a charge of age discrimination with the EEOC.
On December 14, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. Terry v. Gary Community School Corporation, No. 18-1270 (7th Cir. 12/14/2018). The plaintiff worked as a teacher and a Principal for thirty-five years. The defendant closed the elementary school where the plaintiff had served as Principal due to declining enrollment, and reassigned her to serve as the Assistant Principal at another elementary school. She considered this a demotion. In addition, the defendant also selected a male employee over the plaintiff for a separate promotion, even though the plaintiff had earned the highest ranking of all the applicants from the interviewers. In her lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").
On October 11, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court that granted the employer-defendant's motion for summary judgment on a disparate-impact claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Dayton v. Oakton Community College, et al., No. 18-1668 (7th Cir. 10/11/2018). The ADEA prohibits an employer from taking adverse job actions against employees who are forty years old or older because of their age. To prevail on a disparate-impact claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that a specific, facially neutral employment practice caused a significantly disproportionate adverse impact based on age. Unlike disparate treatment claims, disparate-impact claims do not require proof of discriminatory motive.
On October 11, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court which dismissed an Illinois common law tort claim for tortious interference with an employment contract for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Webb v. Frawley, No. 18-1607 (7th Cir. 10/11/2018). The plaintiff sued a former co-worker for tortiously interfering with his employment contract, claiming that the interference resulted in the termination of his employment. The district court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant intentionally induced a breach of his employment contract by his employer--the termination of his employment--by ordering him to pursue business that his employer refused to fulfill, and by reporting to his employer that he was not performing. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant did so in an attempt to resurrect or save the defendant's commercial reputation. The plaintiff was advised that his employer had terminated his employment for poor performance and a lack of productivity.
On December 12, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a group of flight attendants, who alleged that their employer's compensation policy--paying for their work in the air but not on the ground--violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and various state and local wage laws. Hirst et al. v. SkyWest, Inc., et al., Nos. 17-3643 & 17-3660 (7th Cir. 12/12/2018). The district court dismissed the complaint in its entirety, finding that the flight attendants had failed to allege a FLSA violation. The fight attendants plausibly alleged that they were not paid for certain hours of work. However, the 7th Circuit agreed with the other federal circuits, that under the FLSA, the relevant unit for determining a wage violation is not wages per hour, but the average hourly wage across a workweek. Because the flight attendants failed to allege even a single workweek in which one them received less than the applicable minimum wage, the 7th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of their FLSA claims.
On November 29, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit in which the plaintiff, a federal employee, alleged that his employer retaliated against him for filing an EEO complaint. Lewis v. Wilkie, No. 18-1702 (7th Cir. 11/29/2018). The plaintiff's employment had previously been terminated, but after a successful Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaint, he was reinstated to his former position as a cook. He alleged that upon reinstatement, he was subjected to retaliation for his EEO activity through a variety of employment actions. The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court's conclusion that none of the retaliatory actions alleged by the plaintiff constituted a materially adverse employment action.