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.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
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.
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.
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).