On November 30, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that she was paid substantially less than her male colleague, despite taking on twice the responsibility, in violation of the Equal Pay Act ("EPA") and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"). Lauderdale v. Illinois Department of Human Services, et al., No. 16-3830 (7th Cir. 11/30/2017). The EPA and Title VII both prohibit employers from paying an employee less based on sex. The 7th Circuit concluded that the pay discrepancy in this case was not based on sex.
Employment Law Chicago Blog
On November 15, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII reverse race discrimination lawsuit filed by a civil servant against his former employer, the Office of the Chief Judge of Cook County, Illinois. Golla v. Office of the Chief Judge of Cook County, Illinois, et al., No. 15-2524 (7th Cir. 11/15/2017). The plaintiff alleged that the defendant engaged in intentional reverse racial discrimination by paying an African-American co-worker a significantly higher salary than him, a Caucasian, even though they worked in the same department performing the same duties under essentially the same title.
On October 20, 2017, a federal district court judge for the Northern District of Illinois held that a non-solicitation restrictive covenant contained in an employment contract was not unenforceable for lack of adequate consideration, even though the defendants were employed for fewer than two (2) years. Stericycle, Inc. v. Simota, et al., No. 16 C 4782 (N.D.Ill. 10/20/2017). In so holding, the court rejected the Illinois Appellate Court's ruling in Fifield v. Premier Dealer Servs., 2013 IL App (1st) 120327, which held that a non-competition or non-solicitation restrictive covenant contained in an employment at-will employment agreement is unenforceable for lack of adequate consideration when the employee was employed for fewer than two (2) years. Several other Illinois Appellate Court decisions have followed Fifield and adopted the so-called "two-year rule," but the Illinois Supreme Court has not reached the issue. Accordingly, federal court judges are not bound to follow Fifield, and instead must make a predictive judgment on how the Illinois Supreme Court would decide the issue.
On October 2, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment on a former employee's sexual harassment, retaliation and FMLA claims. King v. Ford Motor Company, No. 16-3391 (7th Cir. 10/2/2017). The plaintiff, who was an assembly line worker, claimed that she was sexually harassed by a supervisor. She was discharged after missing several weeks of work for medical reasons that her former employer claims she failed to properly document. In her federal lawsuit, she filed claims for sexual harassment, FMLA interference, and retaliation based on her complaints of sexual harassment and for taking FMLA leave. Since she failed to file suit within 90 days of receipt of her notice of right-to-sue letter from the EEOC, her Title VII sexual harassment claim was time-barred. Her FMLA interference and retaliation claims failed too, for substantive reasons.
On September 26, 2017 (in an unpublished Rule 23 opinion), the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, ruled that a 2.5 Million Dollar punitive damages award in an Illinois workers' compensation retaliatory discharge lawsuit was unconstitutional under federal due process standards, and reduced the punitive damages award to $1,406,839.50 based on a 9:1 ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages. Francek v. Dominick's Finer Foods, LLC, et al., 2017 IL App (1st) 162574-U. Following a jury trial in a retaliatory discharge case, the circuit court entered judgment on the jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff and against his former employer in the total amount of $2,656,315.50. The plaintiff claimed that he was discharged in retaliation for filing claims under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act. The jury returned a verdict in the amount of $156,315.50 in compensatory damages, $2,500,000 in punitive damages, plus court costs. The compensatory damages were itemized as follows: (1) $31,315.50 for psychological treatment and counseling; (2) $75,000 for emotional and/or psychological damages; and (3) $50,000 for emotional and/or psychological damages reasonably certain to be experienced.
On September 26, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a disability discrimination lawsuit in which the plaintiff, a special education teacher, alleged that her receipt of an "unsatisfactory" rating, which resulted in her dismissal in reduction-in-force, constituted unlawful interference in violation of the Rehabilitation Act. Frakes v. Peoria School District No. 150, No. 15-3091 (7th Cir. 9/26/2017). The Rehabilitation Act is a federal statute analogous to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), that prohibits recipients of federal funding, including public schools, from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability. The district court granted summary judgment for the school district on the basis that the plaintiff did not establish that she had engaged in any protected activity, which is required for an interference claim under the Rehabilitation Act. The 7th Circuit agreed, stating that the plaintiff "...provided no evidence that she complained about or discouraged discrimination based on disability or engaged in any other activity protected by law."
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