The 7th Circuit applies a modified McDonnell Douglass test to reverse discrimination claims. Under McDonnell Douglass, a plaintiff must show that: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was meeting his employer's legitimate expectations; (3) he suffered an adverse job action; and (4) similarly situated individuals were treated more favorably than he was. However, when the plaintiff is a member of a "majority" (such as a male plaintiff alleging gender discrimination), he is required to establish "background circumstances" that demonstrate that the employer discriminates against the majority, or that there is something "fishy" going on. Farr v. St. Francis Hospital, 570 F.3d 829, 833 (7th Cir. 2009).
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
On May 12, 2014, the Belleville News-Democrat reported that five employees of the former St. Clair County Clerk were paid a combined settlement of $665,000 by the County in connection with alleged claims of sexual harassment. The employees had reportedly filed alleged charges of sex discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights under Title VII and the Illinois Human Rights Act. The allegations of sexual harassment, which included inappropriate physical touching and sexual comments, were investigated by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is unlawful under Title VII and the Illinois Human Rights Act.
On May 5, 2014, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on Title VII national origin discrimination and retaliation claims. Hnin v. TOA, LLC, No. 13-3658 (May 5, 2014). In its decision, the 7th Circuit reiterated the elements of a prima facie case of employment discrimination under the indirect method of proof: (1) plaintiff is a member of a protected class; (2) plaintiff was meeting his employer's legitimate job expectations; (3) plaintiff suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) plaintiff's employer treated at least one similarly situated employee not in the plaintiff's protected class more favorably. If the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of intentional discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. If the employer meets this burden, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to present evidence that the employer's reason is pretext for unlawful discrimination.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed summary judgment on Title VII race and retaliation employment termination claims in Gosey v. Aurora Medical Center, No. 13-3375 (April 11, 2014). In Gosey, the defendant's sole proffered reason for the termination was alleged chronic tardiness on the part of the plaintiff, in violation of the defendant's employee handbook punctuality policy. However, a former chief officer of defendant testified that there was a workplace custom and practice of allowing employees a 7-minute grace-period within which to arrive. Defendant's time-records showed that the plaintiff arrived within the grace-period on all but one of the occasions upon which the defendant based its termination decision. The Seventh Circuit found that there were genuine issues of material fact surrounding the time-records and the defendant's attendance policy that precluded summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit stated that the existence of a uniform practice or policy that is in doubt cannot serve as a reason for an employment termination. Therefore, a rational jury could conclude that the defendant took the adverse job action on account of the plaintiff's protected class, and not for any non-invidious reason.
On March 26, 2014, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in a Title VII gender discrimination case. Bass v. Joliet Public School District No. 86, No. 13-1742 (March 26, 2014). The Defendant established that it terminated the Plaintiff for job abandonment since she failed to return to work after exceeding all of her available leave time. The Plaintiff claimed that she was terminated because of her sex, in violation of Title VII. The Seventh Circuit found that the Plaintiff failed to present any evidence of disparate treatment. Plaintiff's bare assertion that similarly situated males were treated differently, without any substantiation or names, was insufficient to raise any issue of fact. Moreover, three similarly situated male employees were terminated for the same reason.
On February 7, 2014, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against CVS Pharmacy, Inc. in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago (EEOC v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc., No. 14 C 0863). The EEOC alleges that CVS's severance agreement is unenforceable because it unlawfully interferes with the right of employees to file discrimination charges and communicate/cooperate with the EEOC. The EEOC contends that this violates Section 707 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employer conduct that constitutes a pattern or practice of resistance to the rights protected by Title VII. The suit, which has been assigned to U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah, may significantly impact employers and employees as well as employment law practitioners.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a negative performance evaluation alone does not constitute actionable adverse employment action for a Title VII employment discrimination claim. Chaib v. State of Indiana, No. 13-1680 (7th Cir.), February 24, 2014. Due to the absence of the required element of materially adverse employment action, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in a Title VII case in which the plaintiff claimed that she was a victim of gender discrimination, national origin discrimination, and retaliation. In the opinion, the Seventh Circuit stated that, “Not everything that makes an employee unhappy is an actionable adverse action.”
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in a case in which the plaintiff alleged that the employer terminated her employment on account of age discrimination, reverse race discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation. Andrews v. CBOCS West, No. 12-3399 (7th Cir.), February 14, 2014. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against her employer in which she brought claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, the Age Discrimination In Employment Act, and Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The plaintiff was subjected to daily, derogatory age-based remarks made by her supervisor. However, the Seventh Circuit found that the plaintiff had voluntarily resigned from employment and, therefore, suffered no materially adverse employment action.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a job applicant who was promised a phony job by the job interviewer in exchange for sexual favors cannot maintain a viable sexual harassment claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. Wilson v. Cook County, No. 13-1464 (7th Cir.), February 10, 2014. The Seventh Circuit reasoned that neither the phony job nor any employment relationship ever existed and, therefore, the plaintiff could not establish a failure to hire claim or a sexual harassment claim.