On April 27, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District, held that hostile work environment based on disability harassment as well as failure to provide reasonable accommodation are separate and distinct claims under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). Rozsavolgyi v. City of Aurora, 2016 IL App (2d) 150493 (4/27/2016). The IHRA prohibits discrimination in employment and other contexts based on a variety of protected classifications, including disability. In this case, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant violated the IHRA by discriminating against her on the basis of her disabilities, subjecting her to harassment on the basis of her disabilities (creating a hostile work environment), failing to provide her with reasonable accommodation for her disabilities, and retaliating against her for her complaints by terminating her employment. On appeal, the defendant argued, among other things, that there is no separate claim for disability harassment or failure to accommodate under the IHRA. The appellate court disagreed and reached the opposite conclusion through its statutory interpretation of the IHRA, based on Illinois Human Rights Commission decisions, legislative history, and federal court decisions construing analogous federal statutes.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
On April 27, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her race (black), in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), and failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation for her disability (chronic fatigue syndrome), in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Wells v. Winnebago County, Illinois, No. 15-1805 (7th Cir., 4/27/2016). The district court granted summary judgment on two grounds: (1) that any discrimination was attributable to state rather than county workers; and (2) there was not enough evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find discrimination. The 7th Circuit disagreed with the district court's first reason, stating that employers must control the behavior of others in the workplace to ensure nondiscriminatory work conditions; and that the federal anti-discrimination laws cannot be so easily evaded.
On March 18, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff sued the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") for workplace discrimination on the basis of race, retaliation for filing prior EEOC charges, and hostile work environment. Boss v. Castro, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, No. 14-2996 (7th Cir., 3/18/2016). The plaintiff was employed by HUD as a general engineer for nearly a decade. During his employment, he filed one complaint of sex, race and age discrimination with the EEOC, followed by another complaint of race discrimination and retaliation. In his federal lawsuit, the plaintiff claimed that various negative job actions were taken against him in retaliation for his EEOC complaints and because of his race. The district court granted summary judgment on the grounds that the incidents of which he complained did not constitute adverse employment actions, he was not subjected to disparate treatment, and he was not subjected to a hostile work environment.
On April 6, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her employment was unlawfully terminated on the basis of her sex, race and national origin. Chaib v. The GEO Group, Inc., No. 15-1614 (7th Cir., 4/6/2016). The defendant contended that it fired the plaintiff for "unbecoming conduct" because she allegedly improperly extended her medical leave after a workplace injury. She alleged that she was a victim of employment discrimination as well as retaliation for internal complaints of workplace discrimination that she had submitted to the defendant's human resources department.
On April 14, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII gender discrimination case, in which a female deputy sheriff alleged that she was unlawfully discharged from employment on the basis of her gender. Kuttner v. Zaruba, et al., No. 14-3812 (7th Cir., 4/14/2016). On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the district court unduly restricted discovery and improperly granted summary judgment. The plaintiff allegedly was discharged for misconduct--wearing her official uniform and badge while trying to collect from someone who owed money to her boyfriend--in violation of departmental regulations. She filed a Charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that the sheriff had discriminated against her on the basis of her sex and, after she received a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC, she filed a federal lawsuit claiming sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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.
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.