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.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
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.
On July 13, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendant employer in a lawsuit in which the plaintiffs alleged that they were denied promotion in retaliation for their protected activity of opposing race discrimination, in violation of Title VII. Burks, et al. v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, No. 14-2707 (7th Cir. July 13, 2015). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits an employer from taking tangible, materially adverse employment action against an employee in retaliation for his or her statutorily protected activity of opposing an unlawful employment practice. Voicing opposition to or complaining about employment discrimination based on race constitutes protected activity. The failure to promote an employee constitutes adverse employment action. An employee may prove a claim for retaliatory failure-to-promote through the direct or indirect method of proof.
On June 6, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII race discrimination case. Miller v. St. Joseph County, et al., No. 14-2989 (7th Cir. June 9, 2015). The plaintiff alleged that he was denied various promotions on account of his race, black. The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiff failed to present any evidence that the promotion denials had anything to do with his race. There was also no evidence that he would have gotten one of the promotions if he were white rather than black. Therefore, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment. What is noteworthy about this opinion, though, is that the 7th Circuit announced a restatement of the method and burden of proof to defeat a motion for summary judgment in an employment discrimination case.
On June 1, 2015, the United States Supreme Court held that the retailer Abercrombie & Fitch violated Title VII by failing to hire a job applicant due to her religious practice of wearing a hijab (a Muslim headscarf). Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., 575 U.S. __ (2015). Denial of employment is unlawful if the job applicant's need for a religious accommodation was a motivating factor in the employer's decision to not hire her. An employer's actual knowledge of the need is not required. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits discrimination based on a variety of protected characteristics, including religion. For purposes of a Title VII employment discrimination claim, religion includes a religious practice, observance or belief. Title VII makes it unlawful for a prospective employer to refuse to hire a job applicant in order to avoid accommodating a religious practice that it could accommodate without undue hardship, even if the applicant has not informed the prospective employer of the need for the accommodation.
On May 13, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed the district court's entry of summary judgment on a Title VII retaliatory discharge claim. Castro, et al. v. DeVry University, Inc., No. 13-1934 (7th Cir. 2015). The plaintiff alleged that the defendant discharged him in retaliation for complaining to its Human Resources Department about racially and ethnically offensive remarks made by his manager. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, makes it unlawful for an employer to take adverse employment action against an employee in retaliation for complaining about an unlawful employment practice. This sort of complaining is referred to as protected activity. To prove a retaliatory discharge case, a plaintiff must establish the following elements: (1) protected activity; (2) adverse job action; and (3) a causal relationship between the two. A variety of circumstantial evidence may support a retaliatory discharge claim.