On November 7, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the employer-defendant in a lawsuit in which a former employee alleged claims for race, sex, age, and disability discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). McCurry v. Kenco Logistics Services, No. 18-3206 (7th Cir. 11/7/2019). This case was doomed for many reasons, including that the pro se plaintiff failed to follow the local rules of procedure for the federal court of the Northern District of Illinois. In any employment discrimination case, the fundamental issue at the summary judgment stage of the litigation is whether the evidence would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that the plaintiff was subjected to adverse employment action based on a statutorily prohibited factor, such as sex, age, race, or disability.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
On October 29, 2019, the 7th Circuit ruled that the "regarded-as" provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") does not encompass conduct motivated by the likelihood that an employee or job applicant will develop a future disability within the scope of the ADA. Shell v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company, No. 19-1030 (7th Cir. 10/29/2019). In this case, the defendant refused to hire the plaintiff solely because it believed that his obesity presented an unacceptably high risk that he would develop certain medical conditions in the future that would suddenly incapacitate him on the job. He filed a lawsuit under the ADA, alleging that the defendant discriminated against him based on disability. The defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that the ADA's definition of "disability" is not met where an employer regards a job applicant as not presently having a disability, but at high risk of developing one. The district court denied the motion, ruling that the ADA does reach discrimination based on future impairment. The 7th Circuit reversed, reaching a contrary conclusion of law.
On October 9, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in an age discrimination and retaliation lawsuit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). McDaniel v. Progress Rail Locomotive, Inc., No. 18-3565 (10/9/2019). The plaintiff alleged that his former employer unlawfully discriminated against him on the basis of age and retaliated against him for complaining about a superior, in violation of the ADEA. The plaintiff failed to produce evidence of any substantially younger similarly situated employees who were treated more favorably.
On August 28, 2019, the 7th Circuit issued an opinion in which it explained the exhaustion of administrative remedies doctrine for Title VII employment discrimination claims. Chaidez v. Ford Motor Company, No. 18-2753 (7th Cir. 8/28/2019). The plaintiffs alleged a racially discriminatory hiring scheme that resulted in a lack of Hispanic and Latino line workers at the defendant's Chicago assembly plant. The district court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, holding that the plaintiffs' claims were not "like or reasonably related to" the claims alleged in their EEOC charges. The 7th Circuit concluded that the claims alleged in Count I of the plaintiffs' complaint were not exhausted before the EEOC and therefore affirmed the district court's dismissal of Count I.
On August 22, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her former employer terminated her employment in retaliation for her complaints of sexual harassment. Rozumalski v. W.F. Baird & Associates, Ltd., No. 18-3586 (7th Cir. 8/22/2019). In this case it was undisputed that the plaintiff was sexually harassed by her direct supervisor. It was also undisputed that when she reported the sexual harassment to the employer, the employer promptly investigated and terminated the alleged harasser. At issue was whether the employer terminated the plaintiff in retaliation for her role in the alleged harasser's termination. The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court, that no reasonable jury could find in favor of the plaintiff on her retaliation claims, stating that "while it may be possible for workplace harassment to haunt a victim's ability to succeed long after the incident, the facts that [the plaintiff] has presented do not support a finding of retaliation."
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.
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 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.