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.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
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.
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.
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.
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.
An Illinois jury recently returned a large verdict in a reverse discrimination lawsuit against the Springfield Urban League, in which the plaintiff alleged that her employment was terminated on account of her race, white, and because she refused to participate in workplace religious activities. The plaintiff was awarded $46,718 in back pay and lost benefits, $4,403 in litigation costs, and $160,222 in attorneys' fees. The plaintiff alleged that she was fired because she objected to prayer meetings at work organized by a supervisor, and alleged that members of the supervisor's congregation who worked at the Urban League were given preferential treatment. She also alleged that African-Americans and members of the congregation were hired over more qualified job candidates. The Urban League, which disagrees with the verdict, has filed post-trial motions objecting to the verdict on various legal grounds, and is expected to file an appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court.
On October 21, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed the dismissal of a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her employer subjected her to a hostile work environment on account of her race and national origin and retaliated against her for complaining about that discrimination. Huri v. Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 12-2217 (7th Cir., 10/21/2015). The district court had dismissed the plaintiff's hostile work environment claims on the grounds that they were outside of the scope of the charges of discrimination that she filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The filing of an EEOC charge is an administrative prerequisite to the filing of a Title VII lawsuit for discrimination or retaliation. The purpose of an EEOC charge is to provide the EEOC and the employer with an opportunity to settle the employment dispute, and to put the employer on notice of the employee's claims. A federal lawsuit for a Title VII claim must be reasonably related to the allegations contained in the underlying EEOC charge. The lawsuit and charge must at least describe the same conduct and implicate the same individuals.
On October 20, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a federal lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her former employer denied her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Barrett v. Illinois Department of Corrections, No. 13-2833 (7th Cir., 10-20-2015). The plaintiff was fired from her job due to accumulating a certain amount of unauthorized absences. She claimed that some of those absences were protected by the FMLA and, therefore, should not have been classified as unauthorized. She filed suit after she was fired, but more than two years after her requests for FMLA leave were denied. An FMLA lawsuit must be filed not later than two years after the date of the last event constituting the alleged violation for which the action is brought. The 7th Circuit held that the alleged FMLA violations occurred, and the limitations period began to run, when the employer denied the employee's requests for FMLA leave and classified the subject absences as unauthorized, not when she was fired years later as a result of her attendance record. Thus, the FMLA suit was time-barred.
On October 6, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of summary judgment on USERRA and ADA claims brought by a member of the armed services, who alleged that her employer unlawfully discharged her on the basis of her military service and disability, PTSD. Arroyo v. Volvo Group North America, LLC, No. 14-3618 (7th Cir. 10/6/2015). The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) prohibits discrimination against members of the armed services. It provides that a person who is a member of a uniformed service shall not be denied retention in employment, promotion, or any benefit of employment by an employer on the basis of that membership. The Act also provides that discrimination exists where an employee's armed service membership was a motivating factor in the adverse employment action, unless the employer can prove that it would have taken the same adverse action in the absence of such membership. If a plaintiff makes out a prima facie case by showing that her membership was a motivating factor, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to prove that it would have taken the same action regardless. The motivating factor standard can be satisfied with circumstantial evidence.
On September 23, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a reverse discrimination case, in which a Caucasian professor alleged that a university failed to hire him for an open tenure-track assistant professor position because of his race. Rahn v. Board of Trustees of Northern Illinois University, No. 14-2402 (7th Cir., 9-23-2015). He alleged that the dean of the college had stated that he would not hire a white man into the department if qualified minority candidates were available. He also claimed that the metric used by the search committee to rank the candidates for the position was designed to eliminate him from consideration. After the professor did not make the final cut of candidates, the dean selected a non-Caucasian candidate for the position from the final group.