On June 13, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in a Title VII retaliation case in which the plaintiff-employee alleged that he was constructively discharged in retaliation for complaining about a racially charged employment incident. Mollet v. City of Greenfield, No. 18-3685 (7th Cir. June 13, 2019). The question in every retaliation case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") is whether the statutorily protected activity was the "but-for" cause of the adverse employment action. In this case, the 7th Circuit agreed with the district court that it wasn't. Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for complaining about discrimination. The plaintiff, a firefighter, argued that the defendant fire department retaliated against him for complaining about a discriminatory incident involving a co-worker. To establish a retaliation claim under Title VII, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) he engaged in protected activity; (2) his employer took a materially adverse employment action against him; and (3) there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse job action.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
On June 7, 2019, the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an age discrimination complaint on the ground that the plaintiff had incorrectly named the defendant in his EEOC charge. Trujillo v. Rockledge Furniture LLC, Nos. 18-3349 & 19-1651 (7th Cir. June 7, 2019). The plaintiff filed a charge of age discrimination and retaliation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") after his employment was terminated. In his charge, the plaintiff failed to list the correct legal name of the defendant. The district court dismissed his claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because he did not name his employer sufficiently, and because the EEOC did not notify the correct employer of the charge.
On June 5, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII race discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. LaRiviere v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, et al., No. 18-3188 (7th Cir. June 5, 2019). The plaintiff, an African-American woman, who was notified that she would not be reappointed to her position, sued for race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Absent evidence that her ethnicity was the reason for her termination, or of a causal connection between her protected activity and her termination, her claims could not survive summary judgment. While "[u]nmistakable evidence of racial animus--racial epithets or explicitly race-motivated treatment--makes for simply analysis....[t]he more complicated cases arise when there is no 'smoking gun' showing intentional employment discrimination."
On June 3, 2019, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the requirement under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") that a complainant must first file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") as a precondition to the commencement of a Title VII lawsuit in court is not jurisdictional. Ford Bend County, Texas v. Davis, 587 U.S. ___ (2019). Title VII proscribes employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Title VII also prohibits retaliation against persons who assert rights under the statute. As a precondition to filing a Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit in court, a complainant must first file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. The Supreme Court considered whether Title VII's charge-filing precondition is a jurisdictional requirement that may be raised by the defense at any stage of a lawsuit, or a procedural prescription mandatory if timely raised, but subject to waiver if not timely raised. In an opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg, the Supreme Court held that the charge-filing precondition is not jurisdictional. Consequently, a plaintiff's failure to file a charge of discrimination before filing a Title VII lawsuit must be timely raised as an objection or a defense early in the lawsuit. Otherwise, the objection or defense may be forfeited.
On May 8, 2019, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a hospital on Title VII employment discrimination claims brought by a physician whose practice privileges were terminated by the hospital. Levitin v. Northwest Community Hospital, No. 16-3774 (7th Cir. May 8, 2019). The physician sued the hospital, alleging that it terminated her hospital practice privileges on the basis of her sex, religion, and ethnicity, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). The hospital argued that the physician was not an employee of the hospital and, therefore, her Title VII discrimination claims were precluded. The district court found that she was an independent physician with practice privileges at the hospital, not the hospital's employee.
On April 2, 2019, the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District, reversed the trial court's order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant-employer in an employment discrimination lawsuit under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"), in which the plaintiff-employee claimed that her employer unlawfully discriminated against her because of her sex, race, national origin, and age, and unlawfully retaliated against her for complaining about it. Lau v. Abbott Laboratories, 2019 IL App (2d) 180456 (Second Dist. April 2, 2019). The IHRA is an Illinois anti-discrimination statute that contains the same employee protections as the federal anti-discrimination statutes (as well as some additional protected classifications that are not covered by the federal laws). Illinois courts interpreting the IHRA are guided by federal case law interpreting the federal anti-discrimination laws. The same legal standards and proof paradigms apply.
On March 11, 2019, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, held that under Illinois law, a successor business entity may be liable for an employment discrimination claim against an employer that transferred its assets to the successor in order to avoid liability for the employment discrimination claim. Illinois Department of Human Rights v. Oakridge Nursing & Rehab Center, et al., 2019 IL App (1st) 170806, March 11, 2019. The employee filed an age and disability discrimination charge (the "Charge") against his employer under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). After the employer received notice of the Charge, it transferred substantially all of its assets to a related but separate business entity. Subsequently, a judgment in the amount of $30,000 was awarded by the Illinois Human Rights Commission to the employee and against the employer, which the employer failed to pay.
On February 22, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII race and national origin discrimination lawsuit. Silva v. State of Wisconsin, Department of Corrections, et al., No. 18-2561 (7th Cir. Feb. 22, 2019). Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of the employee's race, sex, religion, color, or national origin. The plaintiff claimed that his employer terminated his employment because of his race and national origin, in violation of Title VII. As evidence of discrimination, the plaintiff raised disparate discipline and pretext.
On February 20, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer on an Illinois common law retaliatory discharge claim. Walker v. Ingersoll Cutting Tool Company, No. 18-2673 (7th Cir. Feb. 20, 2019). The employer discharged the employee after he was involved in a physical altercation with another employee. He sued the employer, alleging race discrimination under Title VII and retaliatory discharge under Illinois law. The district court granted summary judgment for the employer on all claims. On appeal, the plaintiff abandoned his Title VII racial discrimination claim. The retaliatory discharge claim failed for lack of evidence of a causal connection between any protected activity and the plaintiff's discharge.
On February 20, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of an employer in a Title VII racial harassment lawsuit, in which the employee's immediate supervisor made racial epithets directly to the employee. Gates v. Board of Education Of The City of Chicago, No. 17-3143 (7th Cir. Feb. 20, 2019). The plaintiff's supervisor used the N-word twice and threatened to write up his "black ass." The district court applied the wrong legal standard for hostile work environment claims, erroneously stating that "the workplace that is actionable is one that is hellish." However, "[h]ellish is not the standard a plaintiff must satisfy to prevail on a hostile work environment claim."