On July 10, 2014, the 7th Circuit reversed a 12(b)(6) dismissal of a Title VII sex discrimination and retaliation complaint, stating that the district court had applied the summary judgment standard to a motion to dismiss. Carlson v. CSX Transportation, Inc., Nos. 13-1944 & 13-2054 (7-10-2014). In its decision, the 7th Circuit stated and explained the pleading requirements for Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims. Evidence is not required at the pleading stage. A plausible claim for relief is sufficient as long as there are enough details to present (not prove) a story that holds together. In order to plead a Title VII sex discrimination claim, a plaintiff need only allege that the employer took adverse action against her on the basis of her sex. At the pleading stage, a Title VII plaintiff is not required to identify a similarly situated comparator or allege the elements of a prima facie case under the indirect method of proof.
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On July 7, 2014, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment on age discrimination and retaliation claims. Hutt v. AbbVie Products, LLC, No. 13-1481 (7th Cir.) July 7, 2014. The plaintiff alleged that her new manager requested all of his employees' dates of birth as one of his first official acts, and that she and another older employee were subjected to repeated unwarranted warnings and hostile behavior due to their age. An employee may prove age discrimination with the direct or indirect method. Under the direct method, a plaintiff may present direct or circumstantial evidence that raises an inference that unlawful discrimination caused the adverse job action. Direct evidence is essentially a "smoking gun" admission of discriminatory intent. Circumstantial evidence includes suspicious timing, ambiguous statements, behavior or comments directed toward other employees in the protected class, and systematic disparate treatment. These may combined into a "convincing mosaic" of circumstantial evidence from which a discriminatory intent may be inferred. The evidence must point directly to a discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action and be directly related to the employment decision. The evidence in Hutt, including the manager's request for the employees' birth dates, was not enough to establish age discrimination under the direct method. Under the indirect method, a plaintiff may establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination by showing that: (1) she was a member of a protected class; (2) she was performing her job satisfactorily; (3) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the employer treated similarly-situated employees outside of the protected class more favorably. Without evidence that a similarly-situated employee outside of the protected class was treated more favorably, a disparate treatment claim fails under the indirect method.
On June 24, 2014, the 7th Circuit ruled in favor of an employee in a Family and Medical Leave Act case in which it clarified three issues discussed below. Gienapp v. Harbor Crest, No. 14-1053 (7th Cir.) June 24, 2014. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks' unpaid leave to care for a spouse, parent, or child with a serious health condition. The employee is required to provide the employer with notice of the need for FMLA leave. If the leave is foreseeable, the employee is also required to inform the employer of the duration of the FMLA leave. However, if the leave is unforeseeable, the employee is not required to inform the employer of how much leave is needed. In other words, if the employee does not know how much leave is needed, the employee has no obligation to provide the employer with a specific return to work date. In Gienapp, an employee applied for and was granted FMLA leave to care for her daughter, but did not specify a return to work date on the FMLA form. The employer replaced her while she was on FMLA leave. The employer contended that it was not liable for an FMLA violation because the employee did not provide the employer with the duration of her leave, even though its FMLA form required this information. However, the employee did not know when she could return. Because the status of the employee's daughter was changeable, the employee had no obligation to give the employer a firm return to work date.
On June 19, 2014, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in a Title VII harassment and discharge case. Nichols v. Michigan City Plant Planning Dept., No. 13-2893 (7th Cir.) June 19, 2014. The 7th Circuit held that the plaintiff did not provide sufficient evidence of a hostile work environment. Employers are prohibited from requiring employees to work in a discriminatorily hostile or abusive work environment. To succeed on a hostile work environment claim, an employee must establish that: (1) the work environment was both subjectively and objectively offensive; (2) the harassment was based on membership in a protected class; (3) the conduct was severe or pervasive; and (4) there is a basis for employer liability. The question is whether the conduct was so severe or pervasive that it altered the conditions of the employment relationship. The court examines the totality of the circumstances, including: (1) the frequency of the conduct; (2) the degree to which the conduct would seem offensive to a reasonable person; (3) whether it is physically threatening or humiliating conduct as opposed to verbal abuse; (4) whether it unreasonably interferes with the employee's work performance; and (5) whether the conduct was directed at the victim.
On June 13, 2014, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on claims for national origin discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and Section 1981. Huang v. Continental Casualty Company, No. 12-1300 (7th Cir.) June 13, 2014. In order to establish a prima facie case of national origin discrimination under Title VII or Section 1981, the plaintiff was required to offer evidence that: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was meeting his employer's legitimate performance expectations; (3) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) other similarly situated non-Chinese or non-Asian employees were treated more favorably. Unless all these elements are met, the claim fails. The plaintiff contended that the employer applied its job expectations unequally; so the elements of performance and disparate treatment merge. The employer contended that it terminated the plaintiff because he refused to follow a weekend-hours job requirement. The 7th circuit rejected the plaintiff's argument that he met the employer's job expectations by offering alternative scheduling. Employers are entitled to determine their own scheduling needs and decide whether employees are meeting them. The plaintiff's argument that pager duty was illegitimate because it was not in the written job description also failed. Job duties do not have to be listed in a job description in order to be valid employment expectations. The plaintiff also provided no evidence of disparate treatment. In order to survive summary judgment, he had to identify at least one similarly situated non-Chinese employee who was treated more favorably under similar circumstances. The plaintiff failed to satisfy the elements of a prima facie case of employment discrimination; consequently, pretext does not even come into play.
On June 12, 2014, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on Title VII reverse discrimination failure-to-promote claims. Garofalo and Peers v. Village of Hazel Crest, Nos. 12-1668 & 12-1681 (7th Cir.) June 12, 2014. The 7th Circuit reiterated its simplified summary judgment standard for employment discrimination claims--whether a reasonable jury could find prohibited discrimination. Under the direct method of proof, a plaintiff can survive summary judgment by producing either circumstantial or direct evidence that creates a triable issue on whether discrimination motivated the adverse employment action. To establish a Title VII failure-to-promote claim under the indirect method, a plaintiff must offer evidence that: (1) he or she is a member of a protected class; (2) he or she was qualified for the position sought; (3) he or she was rejected for the position; and (4) the employer promoted someone outside of the protected class who was not better qualified. However, in a case alleging reverse discrimination, a plaintiff must also show background circumstances suggesting that the employer discriminates against the majority.
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