On March 15, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a Title VII lawsuit filed by a surgeon against Cook County Hospital, in which she alleged race, sex, and national origin discrimination, as well as retaliation and harassment. Liu v. Cook County, et al., No. 14-1775 (7th Cir., 3/15/2016). The plaintiff had worked as a general surgeon at Cook County Hospital for more than two decades before her surgical privileges were suspended and she was denied reappointment. She claimed that the hospital's reasons for these and various other adverse actions against her were pretext for illegal discrimination and retaliation. The 7th Circuit held that the plaintiff presented insufficient evidence of any discriminatory animus based on her race, sex, or national origin, and, to the extent that she offered any such evidence, it was not connected to the adverse decisions. She also did not present enough evidence to establish a factual dispute on whether the proffered reasons were pretextual.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
On March 4, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order that granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's retaliation claims that she had filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Boston v. U.S. Steel Corporation, No. 15-2795 (7th Cir., 3/4/2016). The plaintiff worked for U.S Steel for 18 years before she was laid off, along with a number of other employees. She filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), in which she alleged that she was laid off in retaliation for an earlier EEOC discrimination charge. She filed a lawsuit in federal court in which she sought relief for retaliation under Title VII and the ADEA, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress under Illinois common law.
On March 10, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendant in an employment lawsuit in which a white male postal worker alleged that he was a victim of reverse race discrimination, age discrimination, and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Formella v. Brennan, No. 15-1402 (7th Cir., 3/10/2016). The plaintiff argued that he established a claim of reverse discrimination based on the denial of a transfer to a favorable position and the selection of an allegedly less qualified non-white employee for the position. The traditional indirect burden-shifting method of proof enunciated in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green is modified in the 7th Circuit by Mills v. Health Care Services Corp. for reverse discrimination cases. A reverse discrimination plaintiff must establish that: (1) background circumstances exist to create an inference that the employer has reason or inclination to discriminate invidiously against whites, or evidence that there is something "fishy" about the facts at hand; (2) he or she was meeting the employer's legitimate performance expectations; (3) he or she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) he or she was treated less favorably than similarly situated individuals who are not members of his or her protected class. Under the modified reverse discrimination standard, the plaintiff, rather than merely alleging that he or she is a member of a protected class, is required to present background circumstances showing that the employer or decision-maker had a reason or motivation to discriminate against whites. Notably, this is a heightened standard of proof for reverse discrimination claims.
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") has established new procedures for its investigation of EEOC charges. Under the new procedures, a charging party may obtain a respondent's position statement from the EEOC upon request, and file a response to the position statement within 20 days after receipt. The new procedures apply to position statements requested by the EEOC on or after January 1, 2016. This is an important employment law development. Previously, a charging party was not entitled to obtain a respondent's position statement until the EEOC closed its investigation, and then, only through a Freedom of Information Act request. There was no opportunity for a charging party to review or respond to a position statement during the investigation. The new procedures significantly improve the EEOC investigative process by facilitating a meaningful exchange of information and allowing investigators to consider responses.
On January 27, 2016, a federal jury in New Hampshire awarded a female pharmacist 31.22 million dollars in damages against Walmart after a trial of her lawsuit in which she alleged that Walmart terminated her employment because of her gender and in retaliation for complaining about safety conditions. McPadden v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP, No. 14-00475 (Dist. NH, 1/27/2016). The plaintiff alleged that Walmart's proffered reason for her termination--that she lost her pharmacy key--was pretext for gender discrimination and retaliation. Her pretext argument was buttressed by disparate treatment evidence that one or more male pharmacists also lost their pharmacy keys, but were not fired.
On January 26, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment on race and national origin discrimination as well as retaliation claims alleged under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), the Civil Rights Act of 1866 ("Section 1981"), and the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). Bagwe v. Sedgwick Claims Management, No. 14-3201 (7th Cir., 1/26/2016). The plaintiff alleged that the employer paid her a comparatively low salary on account of her race and national origin, and terminated her for discriminatory and retaliatory reasons. Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of his or her race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Section 1981 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race or national origin when making and enforcing contracts. The IHRA makes it unlawful for an employer to take adverse job action against an employee on the basis of unlawful discrimination or citizenship status.
On February 3, 2016, the 7th Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment on a white construction worker's claims for reverse racial discrimination under Title VII and Section 1981. Deets v. Massman Construction Company, et al., No. 15-1411 (7th Cir., 2/3/2016). The plaintiff filed a lawsuit in which he alleged that the employer laid him off because of his race, white. Title VII's prohibition against racial discrimination includes reverse discrimination. The plaintiff alleged that when he asked the project superintendent for the reason he was being laid off, the superintendent told him that his "minority numbers" aren't right; "I'm supposed to have 13.9 percent minorities on this job and I've only got 8 percent." The plaintiff further alleged that later on the day of his lay-off, another superintendent stated to him that he was "sorry to hear about this minority thing."
On January 20, 2016, a United States District Court Judge for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed a claim for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation on the ground that sexual orientation is not a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Igasaki v. Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, et al., No. 15-cv-03693 (N.D.Ill., 1/20/2016). The plaintiff alleged that he was subjected to discrimination based on his race, sex, age, and disability, and that he was retaliated against for complaining about his mistreatment. He alleged that a supervisor harassed him on the basis of his sex after the supervisor allegedly learned of his sexual orientation. The defendants argued that what the plaintiff attempted to characterize as a sex discrimination claim was actually a claim for discrimination on the basis of his sexual orientation, and, therefore, must be dismissed because sexual orientation discrimination is not actionable under Title VII. The judge agreed with the defendants, citing Hamner v. St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Care Ctr., Inc., 224 F.3d 701, 704 (7th Cir. 2000) as precedent that harassment based solely upon a person's sexual preference or sexual orientation (and not on one's sex) is not an unlawful employment practice under Title VII.
On January 13, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor a defendant employer on claims of gender and national origin discrimination as well as retaliation brought by a plaintiff employee under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Equal Pay Act ("EPA"). Jaburek v. Foxx, No. 15-2165 (7th Cir., 1/13/2016). The plaintiff, a woman of Mexican descent who worked for the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") at its Des Plaines, Illinois office, alleged that the FAA discriminated against her on account of her gender and national origin by paying her less than male or white employees who did the same work. She also alleged that the FAA retaliated against her for complaining about the discrimination.
On December 28, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed the dismissal of an employment discrimination lawsuit. Tate v. SCR Medical Transportation, No. 15-1447 (7th Cir., 12/28/2015). The pro se plaintiff had alleged that the defendant discriminated against him on the basis of his sex and disability, and retaliated against him for complaining about discrimination. The district court dismissed the suit (without allowing the plaintiff to amend the complaint) on the ground that the complaint failed to state a claim because it lacked specificity. The 7th Circuit held that the complaint satisfied the "undemanding standard" for the plaintiff's Title VII employment discrimination case, in which he had adequately alleged sexual harassment, discrimination on the basis of sex, and retaliation for engaging in protected activity. Indeed, a complaint of sex discrimination must only allege that the employer took a specific adverse employment action against the plaintiff on the basis of her or his sex.