On September 23, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of the defendant employer that was entered after a jury trial of an employee's Title VII employment discrimination case. Boutros v. Avis Rent A Car System, LLC, No. 14-1511 (7th Cir., 9-23-2015). The plaintiff employee, a courtesy bus driver at O'Hare International Airport, alleged that his employer unlawfully terminated his employment because of his race. The 7th Circuit clarified that the employee's claim was actually for discrimination based on his perceived national origin or religion, because he is an Assyrian Christian, who claimed that his supervisors perceived him as an Arab Muslim. The employer claimed that it terminated his employment for dishonesty and insubordination in connection with a work incident that he had reported, about which he had allegedly given inconsistent accounts. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the employer.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
The Illinois Equal Pay Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees in terms of compensation on the basis of gender, has been amended, effective January 1, 2016, to cover all Illinois employers of any size. The Illinois Equal Pay Act makes it unlawful for an Illinois employer to pay an employee less than the employer pays to another employee of the opposite sex for the same or substantially similar work on jobs which require equal skill, effort and responsibility that are performed under similar work conditions. Prior to the amendment, the Act only applied to employers with four or more employees. The Act, which is administered and enforced by the Illinois Department of Labor, provides for civil penalties for each offense. There are exceptions, including any factor that would not constitute unlawful discrimination under the Illinois Human Rights Act.
The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act has recently been re-introduced to both Houses of Congress. If enacted, the Act would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. The accommodation requirement is intended to allow pregnant employees to continue working through pregnancy, if they wish, and to protect them from forced leave of absence or employment termination due to pregnancy. The Act would also make it unlawful for employers to deny employment opportunities to women based on the need for reasonable accommodation related to pregnancy or childbirth. The proposed pregnancy law appears to have support in both the House and the Senate and would more than likely be signed into law by the President.
On August 28, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in a sex discrimination lawsuit brought under Title VII and the Equal Pay Act. Packer v. Trustees of Indiana University, No. 15-1095 (7th Cir. 8-28-2015). The plaintiff alleged that her employer subjected her to various adverse treatment and discharged her from employment because of her gender. She also claimed that she was a victim of gender-based pay discrimination and retaliation for making internal complaints of discrimination. The employer contended that it discharged her for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. There were not enough citations to specific portions of the record to counter the motion for summary judgment. For instance, the plaintiff did not identify any similarly situated male employees who were paid more than she was paid. Therefore, the court could not even reach the issue of whether there was justification for the pay disparity.
On August 25, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in a Title VII retaliation case in which a Caucasian Deputy alleged that his employer terminated him in retaliation for testifying on behalf of African-American Deputies in their race discrimination case. Harden v. Marion County Sheriff's Department, No. 14-1713 (7th Cir., 8-25-2015). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for testifying or participating in investigations of employment discrimination claims filed by other employees. The Deputy testified for his fellow Deputies in connection with an EEO investigation of their race discrimination claims. He alleged that after he testified, he was subjected to retaliation in the form of undesirable schedule changes and assignments as well as unfair discipline, for which he filed his own EEOC Charge.
On August 13, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed an Order of summary judgment on Title VII and Section 1981 claims in an employment law case in which a former employee alleged that her employer terminated her employment because of her race and in retaliation for her complaints of employment discrimination. Miller v. Polaris Laboratories, No. 14-2621 (7th Cir. 8-13-2015). The employer contended that it terminated the employee due to her demonstrably poor job performance. The employee claimed that her immediate supervisor and a co-worker, both motivated by a discriminatory and retaliatory animus, sabotaged her work to get rid of her. The employee supported her position with evidence that they had made racist remarks about her. The higher-level manager who actually made the termination decision had no unlawful motive for the termination. However, the employer can still be held liable under the "cat's paw" theory--that the lower-level supervisor and co-worker deliberately influenced the actual decision-maker to unwittingly terminate the employee for their own unlawful reasons. The "cat's paw" theory applies to employment discrimination and retaliation claims.
On June 5, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment on claims of race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and Section 1981. An employer who discriminates against an employee because of his or her race or retaliates against him or her for protesting unlawful discrimination violates Title VII. An employment discrimination case may be established through the direct or indirect method of proof. Under the indirect method, the employee must show: (1) that he or she is a member of a protected class; (2) that he or she suffered an adverse employment action; (3) that he or she was meeting the employer's legitimate expectations at the time of the adverse action; and (4) that similarly situated employees not in the protected class were treated more favorably by the employer under similar circumstances. If these elements are met, the employer must articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse action; and then the employee must prove that the reason is pretext for discrimination.
On July 24, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on a claim alleging failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended. Swanson v. Village of Flossmoor, No. 14-3309 (7th Cir. July 24, 2015). The plaintiff in this case was a police detective who suffered two strokes. After the first, he requested a reasonable accommodation under the ADA--that he be allowed to work at a desk job. The employer satisfied its obligation to provide him with a reasonable accommodation for his disability by allowing him to use his paid time off to work part-time, in accordance with his physician's instructions. After his second stroke, unable to perform the essential functions of his job, he resigned. The 7th Circuit held that his failure to accommodate claim was without merit. The employer reasonably accommodated the employee after his first stroke by permitting him to use paid leave to work part-time. Since he was unable to perform his essential job functions after his second stroke, the employer was no longer required to accommodate him.
On July 15, 2015, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") ruled that employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation constitutes sex discrimination that is actionable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. Baldwin v. Foxx, et al., No. 0120133080. The EEOC's decision is premised on its theory that sexual orientation discrimination is rooted in traditional gender-related stereotyping and, therefore, fits in the protected class of gender within the meaning of Title VII. It is probably no coincidence that the EEOC's ruling comes in the wake of the recent landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.
On June 25, 2015, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published new Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination in response to the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Young v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1338 (2015). The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA") is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of current, past, intended or potential pregnancy, as well as medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. An employer faces liability for pregnancy discrimination if it makes an employment decision that was motivated by any of these prohibited factors. Pregnancy discrimination also includes an employer's failure to treat female employees affected by pregnancy the same, for all employment related purposes, as non-pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. An employer is required to treat an employee who is temporarily unable to perform her job functions due to a pregnancy-related condition the same as it treats similarly situated non-pregnant employees, by providing modified tasks, alternative assignments or fringe benefits, such as disability leave and leave without pay, as well as medical and retirement benefits.