On May 5, 2014, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on Title VII national origin discrimination and retaliation claims. Hnin v. TOA, LLC, No. 13-3658 (May 5, 2014). In its decision, the 7th Circuit reiterated the elements of a prima facie case of employment discrimination under the indirect method of proof: (1) plaintiff is a member of a protected class; (2) plaintiff was meeting his employer's legitimate job expectations; (3) plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) plaintiff's employer treated at least one similarly situated employee not in the plaintiff's protected class more favorably. If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of intentional discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. If the employer meets this burden, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to present evidence that the employer's reason is pretext for unlawful discrimination.
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On April 25, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment in an age discrimination case. Baker v. Macon Resources, Inc., No. 13-3324 (April 25, 2014). The Seventh Circuit found that the employer treated a younger employee more leniently than the plaintiff for the same policy violation. In an ADEA disparate discipline case, the inquiry is whether a younger employee engaged in similar misconduct but received lighter punishment. The Seventh Circuit rejected the employer's proffered reason as pretext. The Seventh Circuit stated that pretext may be inferred from inaccuracies or inconsistencies in an employer's proffered reason as well as selective enforcement of a disciplinary policy. In Baker, the proffered reason--an attempt to distinguish the plaintiff from the younger employee--was inconsistent with the employer's own policy, which it had selectively enforced. Therefore, the Seventh Circuit concluded that the pretext evidence could lead a jury to reasonably believe that age is the true reason the employer fired the plaintiff but retained the younger employee after both violated the same company rule.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed summary judgment on Title VII race and retaliation employment termination claims in Gosey v. Aurora Medical Center, No. 13-3375 (April 11, 2014). In Gosey, the defendant's sole proffered reason for the termination was alleged chronic tardiness on the part of the plaintiff, in violation of the defendant's employee handbook punctuality policy. However, a former chief officer of defendant testified that there was a workplace custom and practice of allowing employees a 7-minute grace-period within which to arrive. Defendant's time-records showed that the plaintiff arrived within the grace-period on all but one of the occasions upon which the defendant based its termination decision. The Seventh Circuit found that there were genuine issues of material fact surrounding the time-records and the defendant's attendance policy that precluded summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit stated that the existence of a uniform practice or policy that is in doubt cannot serve as a reason for an employment termination. Therefore, a rational jury could conclude that the defendant took the adverse job action on account of the plaintiff's protected class, and not for any non-invidious reason.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment on Illinois state common law retaliatory discharge claims for insufficient evidence of causation. Reid, et al. v. Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, No. 13-1768 (7th Cir.) April 1, 2014. Although the plaintiffs had engaged in protected activity shortly before their termination, they had been making the protected complaints occasionally for six months, and the complaints had not escalated prior to the termination. Moreover, the termination was immediately preceded by an intervening event--policy violations--that prompted the termination. Other employees who made the same protected complaints were not terminated; and one employee who did not make any protected complaint was also terminated for the same policy violations. The Seventh Circuit concluded that in view of the record as a whole, the evidence did not permit a reasonable inference of retaliatory intent.
On March 26, 2014, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in a Title VII gender discrimination case. Bass v. Joliet Public School District No. 86, No. 13-1742 (March 26, 2014). The Defendant established that it terminated the Plaintiff for job abandonment since she failed to return to work after exceeding all of her available leave time. The Plaintiff claimed that she was terminated because of her sex, in violation of Title VII. The Seventh Circuit found that the Plaintiff failed to present any evidence of disparate treatment. Plaintiff's bare assertion that similarly situated males were treated differently, without any substantiation or names, was insufficient to raise any issue of fact. Moreover, three similarly situated male employees were terminated for the same reason.
On March 25, 2014, the United States Supreme Court held that severance payments made by an employer to its involuntarily terminated employees constitute taxable wages for purposes of FICA. United States v. Quality Stores, 572 U.S.__ (2014). The Supreme Court reversed the holding of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, that severance payments are exempt from FICA taxation. The Supreme Court based its decision in part upon the broad definition of "wages" under FICA as "all remuneration for employment," as well as the broad definition of "employment" under FICA as "any service of whatever nature performed...by an employee for the person employing him." Notably, the Supreme Court stated that severance payments are also wages for purposes of income tax withholding. United States v. Quality Stores.
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