On August 21, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting the defendant-employer's motion for summary judgment in a Title VII lawsuit, in which the plaintiff-former employee alleged that the employer had subjected him to a hostile work environment and discharged him in retaliation for his complaints about racial discrimination, in violation of Title VII. Smith v. Illinois Department of Transportation, No. 18-2948 (7th Cir. 8/21/2019). To survive summary judgment on his retaliation claim, the plaintiff was required to show that a reasonable jury could find that he engaged in protected activity, that he suffered an adverse employment action, and that the adverse action was motived by a protected activity. The only issue was whether the employer terminated the plaintiff because he complained about racial discrimination. The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court, that a reasonable jury could not find in Smith's favor. Because there was extensive evidence that the plaintiff failed to meet his employer's legitimate expectations, a reasonable jury could not find that the employer fired him for his protected activity, rather than for his poor job performance.
Employment Law Chicago Blog
On August 19, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court that granted an employer's motion to compel arbitration pursuant to an employee arbitration agreement that required arbitration of employment-related disputes. Gupta v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC, et al., No. 18-3584 (7th Cir. 8/19/2019). The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against his former employer for employment discrimination and retaliation. The company moved to compel arbitration. It argued that the employee agreed to arbitrate the employment claims after he did not opt out of the company's arbitration agreement. The plaintiff contended that during his employment, he never saw an arbitration offer or agreed to arbitrate employment-related disputes.
On August 15, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff-employee alleged violations of the Rehabilitation Act for failure to accommodate. Yochim v. Carson, Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, No. 8-3670 (7th Cir. 8/15/2019). The plaintiff worked in the legal department of HUD. For years, she took advantage of its flexible and progressive policy permitting employees to work from home several days per week. After undergoing surgery, she requested time off and permission to work from home. HUD agreed and allowed her time to recover and to telework from home several days a week for many months as she received physical therapy.
On August 14, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the plaintiff's motion for a new trial in a lawsuit alleging unequal pay due to gender discrimination and retaliation. O'Donnell v. Caine Weiner Company, LLC, No. 18-1826 (7th Cir. 8/14/2019). The plaintiff lost on all counts at a jury trial. She filed a motion for a new trial on numerous grounds, including that the allegedly erroneous jury instructions and verdict forms prejudiced her case. The 7th Circuit affirmed because the plaintiff's arguments on appeal related only to damages, but the jury found against her on liability and, therefore, the alleged errors did not prejudice her case.
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.
On August 7, 2019, the Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, affirmed the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a retaliation claim under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). Zoepfel-Thuline v. Black Hawk College, 2019 IL App (3d) 180524 (Third Dist. August 7, 2019). The plaintiff, a teacher, alleged that the defendant delayed offering her employment contracts in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment, then later terminated her employment in retaliation for the employment discrimination lawsuit that she filed against the defendant. In order to prevail on a retaliation claim under the IHRA, a plaintiff must establish that he or she engaged in protected activity under the IHRA. The IHRA provides two ways in which a person's civil rights may be violated through retaliation.