On December 26, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment for the defendant-employer in a sexual harassment lawsuit in which the plaintiff-former employee alleged that she was subjected to unlawful sexual harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Swyear v. Fare Foods Corporation, No. 18-2108 (7th Cir. 12/26/2018). The sexual harassment claim was based on offensive nicknames used by employees for co-workers and customers, but not for the plaintiff, and a business trip incident with a co-worker involving inappropriate behavior by the co-worker. The plaintiff reported the incident to management and subsequently was given two negative performance reviews and fired. In its decision, the 7th Circuit discussed the elements and legal standards for sexual harassment claims.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
On December 18, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in an age discrimination lawsuit filed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Wrolstad v. CUNA Mutual Insurance Society, No. 17-1920 (7th Cir. 12/18/2018). The plaintiff was employed by the defendant for 25 years. His position was eliminated in a corporate restructuring, when he was 52-years-old. He applied for several open positions, but was not rehired. One particular position for which he had applied was given to a 23-year-old. He signed a severance agreement waiving all claims against the defendant in exchange for 50 weeks of severance pay. Subsequently, he filed a charge of age discrimination with the EEOC.
On December 14, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. Terry v. Gary Community School Corporation, No. 18-1270 (7th Cir. 12/14/2018). The plaintiff worked as a teacher and a Principal for thirty-five years. The defendant closed the elementary school where the plaintiff had served as Principal due to declining enrollment, and reassigned her to serve as the Assistant Principal at another elementary school. She considered this a demotion. In addition, the defendant also selected a male employee over the plaintiff for a separate promotion, even though the plaintiff had earned the highest ranking of all the applicants from the interviewers. In her lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged sex discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").
On November 29, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit in which the plaintiff, a federal employee, alleged that his employer retaliated against him for filing an EEO complaint. Lewis v. Wilkie, No. 18-1702 (7th Cir. 11/29/2018). The plaintiff's employment had previously been terminated, but after a successful Equal Employment Opportunity ("EEO") complaint, he was reinstated to his former position as a cook. He alleged that upon reinstatement, he was subjected to retaliation for his EEO activity through a variety of employment actions. The 7th Circuit agreed with the district court's conclusion that none of the retaliatory actions alleged by the plaintiff constituted a materially adverse employment action.
On November 20, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her employer violated the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Riley v. City of Kokomo, Indiana Housing Authority, No. 17-1701 (7th Cir. 11/20/2018). The plaintiff worked for the Kokomo Housing Authority for eight years before the termination of her employment. During her employment, the plaintiff suffered from various disabilities, which required her to take leaves of absence. She alleged that the housing authority improperly denied her requests for medical leave and retaliated against her for those requests by disciplining and terminating her, in violation of the FMLA. She further alleged that the housing authority failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations for her disabilities and discriminated as well as retaliated against her in violation of the ADA. She also claimed that she was subjected to retaliation for engaging in protected activity in violation of Title VII.
On October 30, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff, a former dental assistant at a Veterans Affairs dental clinic, alleged that he was discriminated against based on his gender (male) and race (Hispanic), he was retaliated against for filing EEO complaints, and he faced a hostile work environment. Abrego v. Wilkie, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, No. 17-3413 (7th Cir. 10/30/2018). Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. To prevail on a Title VII employment discrimination claim, a plaintiff-employee must prove three elements: (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she has been subjected to an adverse employment action; and (3) that the employer took the adverse job action on account of the employee's membership in the protected class.
On October 15, 2018, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of summary judgment that the district court had entered in favor of the defendant-employer in a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her former employer unlawfully terminated her employment in retaliation for her protected activity of filing an internal complaint of sexual harassment with human resources against a manager who had sexually harassed another employee. Donley v. Stryker Sales Corporation, No. 17-1195 (7th Cir. 10/15/2018). The 7th Circuit held that suspicious timing and shifting, inconsistent explanations from the employer raised genuine issues of material fact about the reason for the termination sufficient to preclude summary judgment.
On October 12, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII gender discrimination lawsuit in which the plaintiff-employee alleged that she did not get the same chance to resign her employment with severance pay that three male employees got. Barbera v. Pearson Education, Inc., No. 18-1085 (7th Cir. 10/12/2018). The district court granted summary judgment because the proposed comparator male employees were not similarly situated to the plaintiff. They sought resignation with severance pay before circumstances with the employer materially changed, but the plaintiff sought resignation with severance pay after circumstances changed. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") makes it unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any employee, or otherwise discriminate against any employee with respect to her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of her race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Gender discrimination in connection with disparate severance pay is a cognizable claim under Title VII.
On September 11, 2018, the 7th Circuit issued an opinion in which it explained the joint employer doctrine and reversed the district court's decision on summary judgment that an employer management services company was not a joint employer of the plaintiff-employee in her sexual harassment, retaliation, and pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against multiple separate companies. Frey v. Hotel Coleman, et al., No.17-2267 (7th Cir. 9/11/2018). This case presented issues regarding the employer-employee relationship that arise in the increasingly common scenario in which one employer hires another entity to manage the day-to-day operations of an enterprise. One entity provides the paycheck but another entity manages the tasks typically associated with an employer, such as hiring, firing, training, supervising, and evaluating employees. In this case, a hotel hired a management company to handle its daily operations. Under the hotel management agreement, the management company was responsible for hiring, supervising, directing, and discharging employees, and determining the compensation, benefits, and terms and conditions of their employment. The hotel agreed that it would not give direct instructions to any employee of the hotel or the management company that may interfere, undermine, conflict with or affect the authority and chain of command established by the management company. The plaintiff and other staff members who worked at the hotel were on the hotel's payroll, and the management agreement stated that all personnel are in the employ of the hotel.
On September 10, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a former employee of a big box company, who alleged and testified that she was harassed by a store customer. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Costco Wholesale Corporation, Nos. 17-2432 & 17-2454 (7th Cir. 9/10/2018). The employee testified at trial that she was stalked by a store customer for over a year. Things got so bad at the end that she secured a no-contact order from an Illinois state court. She took unpaid medical leave due to emotional trauma from the experience, and when she did not return to work from medical leave, the company terminated her employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") filed a lawsuit against the company on behalf of the employee, alleging that the company had subjected her to a hostile work environment by tolerating the customer's harassment. The 7th Circuit held that a reasonable jury could conclude that the customer's conduct was severe or pervasive enough to render the employee's work environment hostile.