Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Race, National Origin and Retaliation Claims

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.

7th Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment on Reverse Discrimination Claims

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."

Federal Judge Rules that Sexual Orientation is not a Protected Class under Title VII

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.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Gender Discrimination Claims

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.

7th Circuit Clarifies Pleading Standards for Title VII and ADA Discrimination Complaints

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.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on ADA and Title VII Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

On December 21, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order summary judgment in favor of the defendant entered by the district court in a Title VII and ADA lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her employer discharged her from employment because of her disability, race and gender, as well as in retaliation for filing an EEOC Charge and a worker's compensation claim.  Carothers v. County of Cook et al., No. 15-1915 (7th Cir., 12/21/2015).  The plaintiff alleged disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), as well as race discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").  To establish a valid claim for disability discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) she is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) she is able to perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) the employer took adverse job action against her on the basis of her disability.

Employment Separation Agreement with Release of Claims in Exchange for Severance Valid and Enforceable

On December 17, 2015, the 7th Circuit upheld an important employment law ruling of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, that an employment separation agreement which provides an employee with severance payments in exchange for a release of employment discrimination, retaliation and other employment law claims, and which contains the other standard terms typically found in a severance agreement, is valid and enforceable.  CVS v. EEOC, No. 14-3653 (7th Cir., 12/17/2015).  This decision provides employers with valuable guidance on drafting legally effective employment separation agreements, because it spells out the terms of a severance or separation agreement which a court will enforce.  It also rejects the argument advanced by the EEOC, that standard severance agreements constitute a pattern and practice of discrimination in violation of Title VII because they discourage employees from filing EEOC charges.

7th Circuit Reverses Judgment for Defendants in Title VII Retaliation Lawsuit

On November 25, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed a judgment on the pleadings in favor of the defendants in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit, in which the plaintiff alleged that her employer retaliated against her for filing administrative claims of race, age and gender discrimination.  Moreland v. Johnson, Secretary of U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, No. 15-1291 (7th Cir., 11/25/2015).  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits an employer from taking adverse job action against an employee in retaliation for the employee's protected activity, which includes the filing of administrative claims of employment discrimination.  The plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to disparate treatment in connection with various terms and conditions of employment in retaliation for her discrimination charges.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment in ADA Case

On November 25, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment for the defendants in a lawsuit in which a prison inmate alleged that he was terminated from his prison job on account of a disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Neisler v. Tuckwell, et al., No. 15-1804 (7th Cir., 11/25/2015).  The plaintiff brought his claim under Title II of the ADA.  However, Title II does not apply to a prisoner's claim of employment discrimination in a prison job.  Title II of the ADA does not cover a prisoner's claim that he suffered workplace discrimination on the basis of a disability.  Title II provides that a public entity may not exclude a qualified individual with a disability from participating in or receiving benefits of services, programs, or activities or otherwise subject the individual to discrimination.  It does not apply to claims of employment discrimination.

Employee Fired for Alleged Sexual Harassment Loses Employment Discrimination Case

On November 23, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of an employer in a Title VII race discrimination lawsuit, in which the employee claimed he was discharged because of his race, and the employer contended that he was discharged for alleged violation of its sexual harassment policy.  Smith v. CTA, No. 14-2622 (7th Cir., 11/23/2015).  The employer conducted an investigation of a complaint of sexual harassment against the employee made by a co-worker, who alleged that he had subjected her to unwelcome sexual propositions.  Unwelcome sexual propositions or unwelcome sexual advances may constitute unlawful sexual harassment, if they create a sexually hostile work environment.  After completing its internal investigation, the employer discharged the employee for violation of its sexual harassment policy.

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