On September 4, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by an assistant professor against a state university, in which the professor alleged that the University denied him tenure because of his race, African-American, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII") and Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 ("Section 1981"). Haynes v. Indiana University, No. 17-2890 (7th Cir. 9/4/2018). The plaintiff was employed as an assistant professor in the Department of Education at Indiana University. At the conclusion of his six-year probationary employment contract, he was denied tenure. The 7th Circuit held that the record does not support an inference that the University denied tenure because of the plaintiff's race.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
Effective August 24, 2018, the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA") is amended by Public Act 100-1066. Under the amended IHRA, complainants may opt out of the Illinois Department of Human Rights ("IDHR") investigation and commence a lawsuit in circuit court. To do so, complainants must submit, within 60 days after receipt of notice of the right to opt out, a written request seeking notice from the Director indicating that the Complainant has opted out of the investigation and may commence a civil action in the appropriate circuit court. This amendment may dramatically change Illinois employment law litigation. Plaintiff-side Illinois employment lawyers may choose to take advantage of the opt-out provision by quickly opting out of the IDHR investigation and filing employment lawsuits with jury demands in state court. Before the amendment, IDHR complainants were required to wait 365 days from the charge filing date or until the IDHR investigator completed her investigation, before they could file a lawsuit in court. With the long wait out of the way, the new opt-out provision may also influence plaintiff-side Illinois employment lawyers to file charges of discrimination first at the IDHR, rather than first at the EEOC. It will still be crucial for complaining parties to have their charges cross-filed with both the IDHR and the EEOC, and to perfect all federal law and state law employment discrimination claims, in order to preserve the right to obtain complete relief.
On August 15, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in a lawsuit in which a FEMA Disaster Assistance employee alleged that the Department retaliated against her for filing a discrimination grievance by not reimbursing her for the time and expenses that she incurred when she testified at the hearing of her earlier discrimination charge. Moreland v. Kirstjen M. Nielsen, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, No. 17-3113 (7th Cir. 8/15/2018). The 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff failed to provide evidence that she suffered a materially adverse employment action, and did not rebut the agency's legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for not reimbursing her.
On August 14, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit filed by a Cook County correctional officer, who alleged that two County employees subjected her to unlawful racial and sexual harassment, and that division supervisors unlawfully retaliated against her for filing grievances by reassigning her to work alongside one of the alleged harassers. Emerson v. Dart, Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, et al., No. 17-2614 (7th Cir. 8/14/2018). During the litigation, she posted a threat on a Facebook group that she would sue anyone who testified against her, for which she was sanctioned.
On August 2, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of an employee and against an employer in a same-sex sexual harassment and employment discrimination lawsuit. Smith v. Rosebud Farm, Inc., No. 17-2626 (7th Cir. 8/2/2018). The plaintiff worked as a butcher in a local grocery store on the south side of Chicago. After enduring several years of ongoing sexual and racial harassment from his male coworkers and supervisor, he filed a lawsuit against his employer for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), Section 1981, and the Illinois Gender Violence Act. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the employee. On appeal, the 7th Circuit held that the evidence supported the inference that the plaintiff's coworkers harassed him because he was male (only male and not female employees were harassed at the grocery store) and, therefore, because male employees were treated differently from female employees, a reasonable jury could conclude that the plaintiff was harassed because of his sex (which is an essential element of a Title VII sexual harassment claim).
On July 30, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in an age and sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Hamer v. Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, et al., No. 15-3764 (7th Cir. 7/30/2018). The plaintiff was passed over for a promotion in favor of a younger, male colleague. Believing that this adverse employment action constituted age and sex discrimination, she met with the Director of Human Resources, and informed her of her intention to file a charge of discrimination with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Subsequent communications ensued between various managerial personnel regarding the non-promotion and related personnel issues in connection with the plaintiff, then employee, who was subsequently given an ultimatum to accept a demotion or resign her employment. She resigned, and filed an EEOC charge, followed by a federal lawsuit.
On July 2, 2018, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of summary judgment on a hostile work environment claim in an lawsuit that involved multiple claims of race-based discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Robinson, et al. v. Perales, et al., Nos. 16-2291 & 16-3390 (7th Cir. 7/2/2018). To succeed on a claim for discrimination based on a hostile work environment, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) she was subjected to unwelcome harassment; (2) the harassment was based on a protected category; (3) the harassment was severe or pervasive to a degree that altered the conditions of employment and created a hostile or abusive work environment; and (4) there is a basis for employer liability. In determining whether the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of employment, courts consider the severity of the alleged conduct, its frequency, whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, and whether it unreasonably interferes with the employee's work performance.
On June 27, 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 former employee alleged that he was discriminated against and terminated on account of his religion and in retaliation for filing an EEOC charge. Khowaja v. Jefferson B. Sessions III, Attorney General of the United States, No. 18-1155 (7th Cir. 6/27/2018). The plaintiff alleged that he was unlawfully discriminated against and removed from his position as an FBI agent because he is a Muslim, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), that he was subjected to a hostile work environment and disparate treatment, and that he was unlawfully terminated for beginning the EEOC process. On appeal, he only challenged the district court's ruling on his first claim of religious discrimination and disparate treatment.
On June 19, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a federal lawsuit in which the plaintiff, former employee alleged that the defendant laid him off and failed to rehire him because of his race and in retaliation for his EEOC charge. Oliver v. Joint Logistics Managers, Inc., No. 17-1633 (7th Cir. 6/19/2018). The plaintiff sued his former employer under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, alleging that it discriminated against him when it laid him off and when it hired another applicant to fill an open position. He also alleged that the employer retaliated against him because he filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. The 7th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff failed to present essential evidence in support of each of his claims.
On June 15, 2018, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court which entered summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff employee alleged that she was subjected to unlawful retaliation for filing a prior employment discrimination lawsuit. Flanagan v. Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, No. 16-1927 (7th Cir. 6/15/2018). The plaintiff alleged that two coworkers threatened her life because she had previously sued their shared employer for employment discrimination and retaliation. She filed a new lawsuit under Title VII claiming illegal retaliation based on an alleged hostile work environment in connection with the alleged threats. The 7th Circuit ruled that the alleged threats were too oblique for a jury to conclude that the plaintiff was subjected to severe or pervasive harassment.