U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Section 1981 Employment Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

On June 19, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a federal lawsuit in which the plaintiff, former employee alleged that the defendant laid him off and failed to rehire him because of his race and in retaliation for his EEOC charge.  Oliver v. Joint Logistics Managers, Inc., No. 17-1633 (7th Cir. 6/19/2018).  The plaintiff sued his former employer under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, alleging that it discriminated against him when it laid him off and when it hired another applicant to fill an open position.  He also alleged that the employer retaliated against him because he filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.  The 7th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff failed to present essential evidence in support of each of his claims.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Retaliatory Harassment Claim

On June 15, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court which entered summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff employee alleged that she was subjected to unlawful retaliation for filing a prior employment discrimination lawsuit. Flanagan v. Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, No. 16-1927 (7th Cir. 6/15/2018).  The plaintiff alleged that two coworkers threatened her life because she had previously sued their shared employer for employment discrimination and retaliation.  She filed a new lawsuit under Title VII claiming illegal retaliation based on an alleged hostile work environment in connection with the alleged threats.  The 7th Circuit ruled that the alleged threats were too oblique for a jury to conclude that the plaintiff was subjected to severe or pervasive harassment.

7th Circuit Reverses Attorneys' Fees Award against the EEOC for Prevailing Title VII Defendant

On June 8, 2018, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of the district court which had awarded the prevailing defendant, CVS Pharmacy, Inc. ("CVS") its attorneys' fees against the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), in the wake of the EEOC's unsuccessful attempt to challenge the validity and enforceability of CVS's standard employee severance agreement and release.  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc., No. 17-1828 (7th Cir. 6/8/2018).  The EEOC filed a complaint against CVS alleging that CVS was using a severance agreement that chilled its employees' exercise of their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII").  The EEOC contended that CVS's use of the severance agreement was a pattern or practice of resistance to the rights protected by Title VII.  The district court ruled against the EEOC on this issue and the 7th Circuit affirmed.  Subsequently, the district court awarded CVS $307,902.30 in attorneys' fees against the EEOC.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Title VII Race Discrimination Claims but Reverses Summary Judgment on Workplace Harassment Claims

On June 8, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment on Title VII race discrimination claims, but reversed summary judgment as to hostile work environment race-based workplace harassment claims.  Johnson, et al. v. Advocate Health and Hospitals Corp., No. 16-3848 (7th Cir. 6/8/2018).  The plaintiffs claimed that they were treated unfairly based on their race.  The district court granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment, finding that the plaintiffs failed to offer evidence necessary to support their claims.  The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court on all issues except the hostile work environment claims.  Despite doing away with the separate direct and indirect evidence tests and convincing mosaics, the 7th Circuit still uses the traditional McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting evidentiary framework for evaluating employment discrimination claims.  Under McDonnell Douglas, a court considers whether the plaintiffs: (1) are members of a protected class; (2) performed reasonably on the job in accordance with their employer's legitimate expectations; (3) were subjected to adverse employment action despite their reasonable performance; and (4) similarly situated employees outside of the protected class were treated more favorably by the employer.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment in Americans with Disabilities Act Lawsuit

On May 18, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by a terminated employee for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").  Harris v. Allen County Board of Commissioners, No. 17-2577 (7th Cir. 5/18/2018).  The question in this case was whether the defendant was the plaintiff's employer for purposes of ADA liability.  The ADA makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate in the terms and conditions of a qualified individual's employment on the basis of a physical or mental impairment that constitutes a disability within the meaning of the ADA, and requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals' disabilities.  In order to establish an ADA claim, the plaintiff was required, but failed to establish that the defendant was his employer.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on FMLA and ADA Retaliation Claims

On April 30, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a federal lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant retaliated against him for exercising his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA").  Freelain v. Village of Oak Park et al., No. 16-4074 (7th Cir. 4/30/2018).  The plaintiff, an Oak Park police officer, made an internal complaint of sexual harassment, alleging that another officer made unwelcome sexual advances toward him.  After he reported the alleged sexual harassment, he began to experience migraine headaches and other medical conditions that he attributed to stress related to the alleged sexual harassment, for which he took time off work.  He alleged that as a result of his medical condition and use of leave time, the defendant retaliated against him, in violation of the FMLA and ADA, by classifying his sick leave as unpaid, requiring him to undergo a psychological evaluation before returning to duty, and waiting three months before approving his request to engage in outside employment.  The 7th Circuit held that the subject employment actions did not constitute protected activity and that therefore, the plaintiff's FMLA and ADA retaliation claims failed as a matter of law.

Age Discrimination Disparate Impact Claim for Failure-to-Hire

On April 26, 2018, the 7th Circuit held that the disparate impact provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") protects both outside job applicants and current employees from employment practices that have a disparate impact on older workers.  Kleber v. CareFusion Corporation, No. 17-1206 (7th Cir. 4/26/2018).  The ADEA prohibits employment practices that discriminate intentionally against older workers as well as employment policies that are facially neutral but have a disparate impact on older workers.  In this case, the 7th Circuit recognized a cause of action under the ADEA for disparate impact failure-to-hire, in the context of a hiring policy which limited the applicant pool for an attorney position to applicants with three to seven years (but no more than seven years) of legal experience.

Family and Medical Leave Act Statute of Limitations

On April 24, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") interference lawsuit on the basis that the suit was time-barred under the FMLA's two-year statute of limitations.  Sampra v. United States Department of Transportation, No. 17-2621 (7th Cir. 4/24/2018).  The plaintiff sued her employer alleging that it unlawfully interfered with her rights under the FMLA by reassigning her to a different position after she returned from pregnancy leave.  The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant on the merits, finding that the plaintiff was offered essentially the same position upon her return from FMLA pregnancy leave.  The 7th Circuit affirmed, without reaching the merits, on the different ground that the plaintiff's FMLA lawsuit was time-barred because the plaintiff failed to file her complaint within the applicable two-year statute of limitations.  The three-year statute of limitations did not apply because the plaintiff failed to provide evidence that the defendant willfully violated her rights under the FMLA.

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

On March 14, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a Section 1981 lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged race discrimination and retaliation.  Madlock v. WEC Energy Group, Inc., No. 17-1278 (7th Cir. 3/14/2018).  The plaintiff alleged that she was transferred from one section of her employer to another as a result of racial discrimination.  She also alleged that the employer retaliated against her by disciplining her after she filed an internal discrimination complaint against her former supervisor.  The 7th Circuit stated that "[w]e recently cleaned out the 'rat's nest of surplus tests' that plagued our case law on the subject of race discrimination."

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on FMLA and ADA Claims

On March 7, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant, employer in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff, former employee alleged that her former employer interfered with her right to take a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), discriminated against her on the basis of her disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation for her disabilities, in violation of the ADA, and unlawfully retaliated against her for exercising her rights under the FMLA and ADA.  Guzman v. Brown County, No. 16-3599 (7th Cir. 3/7/2018).  The FMLA provides eligible employees who have serious health conditions with the right to take unpaid leave for up to 12 workweeks during each 12 month period.  The FMLA also makes it unlawful for an employer to interfere with an employee's attempt to exercise his or her FMLA rights, or to retaliate against an employee for exercising his or her FMLA rights.

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