On January 29, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Judicial Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court, which awarded the plaintiff unusual equitable remedies in a Title VII lawsuit. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Northern Star, et al., No. 14-1660 (7th Cir., 1-29-2015). The plaintiff, a male African-American cook, alleged that he was fired in retaliation for complaining about racial harassment. Coworkers had sketched racially inflammatory pictures on a dollar bill, which they showed to him. Shortly after he made a complaint of racial harassment to his employer, his supervisors began to criticize his work performance, and terminated his employment. Before he reported the harassment, the plaintiff had never received any complaints about his job performance.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
On January 29, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's entry of summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims for national origin discrimination and retaliation. Yaroslav v. Means-Knaus Partners, L.P., Nos. 13-3302 & 14-2768 (7th Cir., 1-29-2015). Plaintiff, a custodian for thirteen years, alleged that his employer disciplined him and terminated his employment because of his Ukrainian national origin and in retaliation for filing charges of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Illinois Department of Human Rights. He alleged that his supervisor mocked his mixed use of Ukrainian and Polish, in front of his co-workers. He also alleged that his employer treated custodians who are not in his protected class more favorably than him. The 7th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff's failure to meet the employer's legitimate performance expectations doomed his employment discrimination claim under the indirect method of proof.
On January 27, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the plaintiff's employment discrimination and retaliation claims. Awok Ani-Deng v. Jeffboat, LLC, No. 14-2155 (7th Cir., 1-27-2015). The plaintiff, a female Sudanese shipyard welder, alleged that her employer demoted her and laid her off in retaliation for her complaints of sex and national origin discrimination that she had filed with the EEOC. After her layoff, the company send the plaintiff a work recall notice, to which she failed to timely respond. The 7th Circuit found that the employer demoted the plaintiff for safety reasons, laid her off as part of a general seniority-based reduction-in-force, and would have recalled her had she timely responded to the notice.
On January 12, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed the entry of summary judgment on a Title VII retaliation claim. Greengrass v. International Monetary Systems, Ltd., No. 13-2901 (7th Cir., 1-12-2015). The plaintiff alleged that her former employer retaliated against her for filing a charge of employment discrimination and sexual harassment with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by naming her in the litigation section of a publicly available SEC filing, in which it labeled her charge as meritless. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the company on the basis that the plaintiff failed to establish a causal connection between her EEOC filing and the alleged retaliation. The 7th Circuit found that the plaintiff established a claim for retaliation. She engaged in protected activity by filing her charge; the company took adverse employment action by naming her in its SEC filing; and there was enough evidence for a jury to conclude that the company did so because of her charge.
On December 10, 2014, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged sex discrimination, age discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Ripberger v. Corizon, Inc., No. 13-2070 (7th Cir., 12-10-2014). The plaintiff/employee claimed that her employer failed to hire her for an open position in connection with a restructuring because of her sex, age, and protected activity of assisting another employee with her sex discrimination grievance. The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court, that the plaintiff was an unfortunate victim of a reduced work force in the wake of the privatization of a state program. The 7th Circuit stated that the fundamental question on summary judgment is simply whether a reasonable jury could find prohibited discrimination, i.e., that a rational jury could conclude that the employer took the adverse action on account of her protected class.
On December 1, 2014, the 7th Circuit reversed summary judgment in a Title VII and Section 1981 action in which the plaintiff alleged that his former employer terminated his employment because of his race and in retaliation for his prior complaints of race discrimination. Parker v. Scheck Mechanical Corporation, No. 13-3693 (7th Cir., 12-1-2014). The district court entered summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff had sued the wrong company and had not sued his actual employer. The 7th Circuit reversed because the two companies are interrelated. The company website treats the two and various other business entities interchangeably, and represents that they are all one company with one corporate headquarters. The 7th Circuit agreed with the plaintiff that the line between the companies is blurred, as reflected by their overlapping corporate officers and shared office space. Moreover, a Manager who stated in an Affidavit that his company (the alleged wrong company) did not employ or discharge the plaintiff, and is entirely separate from the company that did, also stated in the same Affidavit that he has personal knowledge of the details behind the plaintiff's discharge. This was the inconsistency that broke the camel's back.
On November 26, 2014, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The former employee alleged that the employer had failed to accommodate her disability as required by the ADA, had discriminated and retaliated against her based on her disability, had interfered with her FMLA rights, and had discriminated against her based on her race. The 7th Circuit held that: (1) her ADA discrimination claim failed because she did not establish that she was a qualified individual with a disability, or that she met the employer's legitimate job expectations; (2) her failure to meet expectations also precluded her race discrimination claim; (3) her ADA failure-to-accommodate claim failed because her accommodation was not reasonable; (4) there was insufficient evidence to support her ADA retaliation claim; and (5) her FMLA interference claim failed because she was not denied FMLA leave.
On November 14, 2014, the 7th Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of a sex discrimination lawsuit filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Stuart v. Local 727, No. 14-1710 (7th Cir., 11-14-2014). The plaintiff is a professional driver who belonged to a union. She alleged that in its 70-year history, the Movie/Trade Show Division of the union never referred a female driver to drive for any of its movie or television production companies. She also alleged that she received no referrals in four and a half years, her resume was never included with those of the other applicants, and no women has ever been referred by the Division for a driving job.
On October 15, 2014, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in a Title VII and ADA action on the basis that the plaintiff--a part-owner of the defendant business--was not an employee and therefore not covered by Title VII or the ADA. Bluestein v. Central Wisconsin Anesthesiology, No. 13-3724 (7th Cir. 10-15-2014). In order to be entitled to protection under Title VII, a person must be an employee of an employer that employs 15 or more employees. In Bluestein, the plaintiff filed a Title VII and ADA lawsuit against a company in which she was a partner/shareholder and member of the Board of Directors. She had an equal right to vote on all Board matters, shared equally in the profits and liabilities of the company, participated in hiring and firing decisions, and had an equal right to influence employment policies.
On October 7, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge John W. Darrah issued a Written Opinion and Order granting CVS's Motion for Summary Judgment and dismissing the EEOC's lawsuit against CVS. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc., No. 14-cv-863 (N.D.Ill.2014). In this lawsuit, the EEOC alleged that CVS's Severance Agreement is invalid and unenforceable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case was closely watched by employment law attorneys because the terms and conditions of CVS's Severance Agreement are typical of those commonly used by employment lawyers in severance or separation agreements. Some employment law attorneys were concerned that invalidation of the standard terms and conditions of severance or separation agreements would create obstacles to negotiating settlements of employment law claims. The incentive for most employers to pay employees monetary settlements of employment law claims is to receive a release of claims and an agreement to not sue in exchange for the payment. If these terms were declared unenforceable, the incentive would be lost, and it would take some very creative lawyering to structure viable settlements of employment law claims. In view of Judge Darrah's dismissal of the EEOC's lawsuit, this will not be the case.