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.
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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.
On February 7, 2014, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against CVS Pharmacy, Inc. in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago (EEOC v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc., No. 14 C 0863). The EEOC alleges that CVS's severance agreement is unenforceable because it unlawfully interferes with the right of employees to file discrimination charges and communicate/cooperate with the EEOC. The EEOC contends that this violates Section 707 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employer conduct that constitutes a pattern or practice of resistance to the rights protected by Title VII. The suit, which has been assigned to U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah, may significantly impact employers and employees as well as employment law practitioners.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a negative performance evaluation alone does not constitute actionable adverse employment action for a Title VII employment discrimination claim. Chaib v. State of Indiana, No. 13-1680 (7th Cir.), February 24, 2014. Due to the absence of the required element of materially adverse employment action, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in a Title VII case in which the plaintiff claimed that she was a victim of gender discrimination, national origin discrimination, and retaliation. In the opinion, the Seventh Circuit stated that, “Not everything that makes an employee unhappy is an actionable adverse action.”
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