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.
U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit
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.
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.
On June 7, 2019, the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an age discrimination complaint on the ground that the plaintiff had incorrectly named the defendant in his EEOC charge. Trujillo v. Rockledge Furniture LLC, Nos. 18-3349 & 19-1651 (7th Cir. June 7, 2019). The plaintiff filed a charge of age discrimination and retaliation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") after his employment was terminated. In his charge, the plaintiff failed to list the correct legal name of the defendant. The district court dismissed his claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because he did not name his employer sufficiently, and because the EEOC did not notify the correct employer of the charge.
On June 5, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII race discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. LaRiviere v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, et al., No. 18-3188 (7th Cir. June 5, 2019). The plaintiff, an African-American woman, who was notified that she would not be reappointed to her position, sued for race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Absent evidence that her ethnicity was the reason for her termination, or of a causal connection between her protected activity and her termination, her claims could not survive summary judgment. While "[u]nmistakable evidence of racial animus--racial epithets or explicitly race-motivated treatment--makes for simply analysis....[t]he more complicated cases arise when there is no 'smoking gun' showing intentional employment discrimination."
On May 8, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a hospital on Title VII employment discrimination claims brought by a physician whose practice privileges were terminated by the hospital. Levitin v. Northwest Community Hospital, No. 16-3774 (7th Cir. May 8, 2019). The physician sued the hospital, alleging that it terminated her hospital practice privileges on the basis of her sex, religion, and ethnicity, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). The hospital argued that the physician was not an employee of the hospital and, therefore, her Title VII discrimination claims were precluded. The district court found that she was an independent physician with practice privileges at the hospital, not the hospital's employee.
On March 6, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that the district court did not err in its jury instruction about the legal consequences of an employee's failure to cooperate with her employer in identifying a reasonable accommodation. Sansone v. Brennan, Postmaster General of the United States, No. 17-3534 & No. 17-3632 (7th Cir. March 6, 2019). The plaintiff, a postal employee confined to a wheelchair, was for years provided by the Postal Service with a parking spot with room to deploy his van's wheelchair ramp, until it took that spot away and failed to provide him with a suitable replacement. He filed a lawsuit against the Postal Service, alleging that it failed to accommodate his disability. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, and he recovered compensatory damages, as well as back pay and front pay. The Service appealed on various grounds, including a jury instruction that it claimed was erroneous regarding the required interactive process between an employer and employee to find a reasonable accommodation.
On February 22, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII race and national origin discrimination lawsuit. Silva v. State of Wisconsin, Department of Corrections, et al., No. 18-2561 (7th Cir. Feb. 22, 2019). Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of the employee's race, sex, religion, color, or national origin. The plaintiff claimed that his employer terminated his employment because of his race and national origin, in violation of Title VII. As evidence of discrimination, the plaintiff raised disparate discipline and pretext.
On February 20, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer on an Illinois common law retaliatory discharge claim. Walker v. Ingersoll Cutting Tool Company, No. 18-2673 (7th Cir. Feb. 20, 2019). The employer discharged the employee after he was involved in a physical altercation with another employee. He sued the employer, alleging race discrimination under Title VII and retaliatory discharge under Illinois law. The district court granted summary judgment for the employer on all claims. On appeal, the plaintiff abandoned his Title VII racial discrimination claim. The retaliatory discharge claim failed for lack of evidence of a causal connection between any protected activity and the plaintiff's discharge.
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."