On April 29, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must try to conciliate with an employer before suing the employer for unlawful employment practices. Mach Mining v. EEOC, 575 U.S. __ (2015). The EEOC may fulfill this precondition by providing the employer with notice of the allegations against it and an opportunity to cure the alleged violations of employment law. The Supreme Court also ruled that the issue of whether conciliation was attempted is subject to judicial review.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
On March 24, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed summary judgment in a Title VII race discrimination case. Hutchens v. Chicago Board of Education, et al., No. 13-3648 (7th Cir.). The case involved a large-scale layoff and reorganization. The plaintiff alleged that she was laid off while a less qualified white employee was selected for retention instead of her because of her race (black). There was only one open position. The district court accepted the defendant's explanation for its selection as a non-pretextual justification. The 7th Circuit, however, stated that there was considerable doubt about the honesty of the main witnesses for the defense as well as an absence of any corroborating documentary evidence.
On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-anticipated decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, 575 U.S. __ (2015), in which it interpreted the second clause of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in a manner that expands the rights of pregnant employees to workplace accommodation. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA") is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which extends Title VII's protection against sex discrimination to pregnant employees, making it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on pregnancy, child-birth, or related medical conditions. The second clause of the PDA requires employers 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. The issue in Young was whether an employment policy that provided disability accommodation for some but not all categories of non-pregnant employees violated the PDA by denying disability accommodation to pregnant employees.
On March 11, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII employment discrimination and Section 1981 lawsuit. Simpson v. Beaver Dam Community Hospitals, Inc., No. 14-2269 (7th Cir., March 11, 2015). The 7th Circuit stated that although questions have been raised about the utility of analyzing discrimination claims through both the direct and indirect methods of proof, both tests still stand and are to be considered separately (despite the typically overlapping evidence). The ultimate question is whether a reasonable jury could find unlawful discrimination. Terms commonly used by human resources to justify employment terminations, such as 'not the right fit,' 'better fit elsewhere,' and 'not a good fit,' do not amount to direct evidence of discriminatory intent, unless there is a connection between the term and a protected class or an inherently discriminatory context.
On March 9, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a general contractor defendant on the basis that the plaintiff, who was employed by its subcontractor, failed to demonstrate that the general contractor was his indirect employer for purposes of Title VII liability. Love v. JP Cullen & Sons, No. 13-3291 (7th Cir., 3-9-2015). The plaintiff brought a Title VII action alleging that his dismissal from a construction job site was racially motivated. Since the general contractor was not his direct employer, the plaintiff was required to show that the general contractor could still be held liable under Title VII as an indirect employer. Under Title VII, it is unlawful for an employer to discharge or otherwise discriminate against any individual because of the individual's race, color, religion, sex or national origin. An employer is defined under Title VII as a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has fifteen or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and any agent of such a person.
On February 6, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's entry of summary judgment dismissing a Title VII retaliation case. Ledbetter v. Good Samaritan Ministries, et al., No. 14-2822 (7th Cir., 2-6-2015). This opinion is about suspicious timing and too many loose ends. Instead of firing the plaintiff the day of the alleged termination meeting (before they learned of his EEOC charge), the decision-makers "dawdled." The dawdling of the decision-makers created an inference that they fired him the day after they learned of his EEOC charge because the charge was the "last straw." It is possible that if he had not filed his charge, he would have remained employed and, therefore, his termination was, at least in part, in retaliation for his charge. Even if they had already made a tentative decision to terminate the plaintiff, but did not execute it until they received notice of the charge, the lawsuit still should not have been dismissed, as the charge may have triggered the firing.
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.
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.