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.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
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.
On July 26, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment on a Title VII sexual harassment hostile work environment claim. Hunt v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 18-3403 (7th Cir. 7/26/2019). The plaintiff filed a complaint in federal court alleging that a supervisor sexually harassed her by creating a hostile work environment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII). A Title VII hostile work environment sexual harassment claim requires a plaintiff to show: (1) the work environment was objectively and subjectively offensive; (2) the harassment complained of was based on gender; (3) the conduct was either severe or pervasive; and (4) there is a basis for employer liability.
On July 26, 2019, the 7th Circuit reversed the district court's entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit, in which the plaintiff, a former temporary employee, alleged that the employer refused to hire him permanently in retaliation for his complaints of discrimination. Stepp v. Covance Central Laboratory Services, Inc., No. 18-3292 (7th Cir. 7/26/2019). Based on the record, a reasonable jury could conclude that the employer refused to promote the temporary employee to permanent status because of and in retaliation for his protected activity of filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.
On June 27, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's order granting the defendant-employer's motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims for age discrimination, race discrimination and retaliation. Fields v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, et al., No. 17-3136 (7th Cir. June 27, 2019). The plaintiff, a Chicago Public School teacher, sued the Board of Education and the principal of the school where she worked, alleging that they discriminated against her based on her race and age and retaliated against her for filing this lawsuit, in violation of Section 1981 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). The district court entered summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff did not suffer an adverse employment action, which is a required element of an employment discrimination claim.
On June 14, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of a complaint in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant terminated his employment because of his race and disability, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Freeman v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, No. 18-3737 (7th Cir. June 14, 2019). The plaintiff, an African-American man who suffers from alcoholism, sued his former employer for firing him because of his race and disability. The district court dismissed his complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Seventh Circuit, however, concluded that the plaintiff has pleaded enough to state his claims.
On June 13, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in a Title VII retaliation case in which the plaintiff-employee alleged that he was constructively discharged in retaliation for complaining about a racially charged employment incident. Mollet v. City of Greenfield, No. 18-3685 (7th Cir. June 13, 2019). The question in every retaliation case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") is whether the statutorily protected activity was the "but-for" cause of the adverse employment action. In this case, the 7th Circuit agreed with the district court that it wasn't. Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for complaining about discrimination. The plaintiff, a firefighter, argued that the defendant fire department retaliated against him for complaining about a discriminatory incident involving a co-worker. To establish a retaliation claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) he engaged in protected activity; (2) his employer took a materially adverse employment action against him; and (3) there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse job action.
On June 7, 2019, the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an age discrimination complaint on the ground that the plaintiff had incorrectly named the defendant in his EEOC charge. Trujillo v. Rockledge Furniture LLC, Nos. 18-3349 & 19-1651 (7th Cir. June 7, 2019). The plaintiff filed a charge of age discrimination and retaliation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") after his employment was terminated. In his charge, the plaintiff failed to list the correct legal name of the defendant. The district court dismissed his claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because he did not name his employer sufficiently, and because the EEOC did not notify the correct employer of the charge.
On June 5, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII race discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. LaRiviere v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, et al., No. 18-3188 (7th Cir. June 5, 2019). The plaintiff, an African-American woman, who was notified that she would not be reappointed to her position, sued for race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Absent evidence that her ethnicity was the reason for her termination, or of a causal connection between her protected activity and her termination, her claims could not survive summary judgment. While "[u]nmistakable evidence of racial animus--racial epithets or explicitly race-motivated treatment--makes for simply analysis....[t]he more complicated cases arise when there is no 'smoking gun' showing intentional employment discrimination."