On August 15, 2017, the 7th Circuit rejected a company's challenge to the legal authority of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") to continue an enforcement action after issuing a notice of right-to-sue letter and subsequent resolution of the underlying charges of discrimination in a private lawsuit. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, No. 15-3452 (7th Cir. 8/15/2017). The EEOC petitioned the district court to enforce its subpoena for the defendant's employment records related to the charges. The 7th Circuit stated that the U.S. Supreme Court and the 7th Circuit have recognized the EEOC's broad role in promoting the public interest by preventing employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), including its independent authority to investigate charges of discrimination, especially company-wide pattern and practice of discrimination cases. Thus, the 7th Circuit agreed with the district court that neither the issuance of the right-to-sue letter nor the entry of judgment in a lawsuit filed by the charging parties bars the EEOC from continuing its own investigation.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
On August 8, 2017, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of summary judgment in a Title VII race discrimination lawsuit filed by an African-American police officer. McKinney v. Office of the Sheriff of Whitley County, No. 16-4131 (7th Cir. 8/8/2017). The plaintiff was the first black police officer ever in Whitley County, Indiana. He was fired nine months after he was hired. He sued for race discrimination. The 7th Circuit stated that his evidence supports a strong case of race discrimination. The expanding and shifting nature of the defendant's proffered reasons for the termination of the plaintiff's employment were the kiss of death for the defendant in this employment discrimination lawsuit.
On August 2, 2017, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of summary judgment in a sexual harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit that was filed in federal court under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). Nischan v. Stratosphere Quality, LLC et al., No. 16-3464 (7th Cir. 8/2/2017). The plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to unlawful sexual harassment in her employment, and that she was fired in retaliation for filing a complaint about it. The 7th Circuit held that the plaintiff offered sufficient evidence to support her sexual harassment claim to survive summary judgment. The plaintiff alleged that a co-worker relentlessly sexually harassed her, including unwelcome sexual advances and sexual propositions as well as offensive, outrageous physical touchings of private areas of her body, and sexually offensive comments and questions. She also alleged that managerial level employees knew about the sexual harassment, but failed to do anything about it.
On July 20, 2017, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of the district court that had dismissed Title VII claims for hostile work environment, disparate treatment and retaliation. Alamo v. Bliss et at., No. 15-2849 (7th Cir. 7/20/2017). The plaintiff, a Hispanic City of Chicago firefighter, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit in federal court. He alleged various forms of unlawful discrimination on the basis of his national origin under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), a failure to accommodate claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and a retaliation claim under Title VII. The district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim, and dismissed all of the plaintiff's federal claims.
On July 17, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of the district court that denied an employer's motion to compel arbitration of an employee's Title VII sexual harassment and retaliation claims based on an arbitration agreement between the employee and the staffing agency who placed her with the employer. Scheurer v. Fromm Family Foods LLC, No. 16-3327 (7th Cir. July 17, 2017). The employee filed a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). The employee's contract with the staffing agency that placed her with the employer contained an arbitration clause. The employer moved to compel arbitration of the employee's claims, but the district court denied the motion.
On July 12, 2017, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of the district court that granted summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a Title VII retaliation case, in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant intentionally retaliated against her for complaining about employment discrimination in her 2009 EEOC Charge, when it refused to rehire her in 2014. Baines v. Walgreen Co., No. 16-3335 (7th Cir. July 12, 2017). The 7th Circuit stated that, "[t]his appeal provides an example of circumstantial evidence that allows a reasonable inference that an employer acted with unlawful intent." The circumstantial evidence included evidence that the manager who had handled her earlier EEOC charges intervened in the 2014 decision to not rehire her, and that the manager did so in ways that deviated significantly from the employer's standard hiring procedures.
On June 20, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a federal lawsuit in which the former employee plaintiff alleged that the employer discriminated against her on the basis of her sex, female, and retaliated against her on account of her prior complaints of employment discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Nicholson v. City of Peoria, Illinois, et al., No. 16-4162 (7th Cir. June 20, 2017). In this case the plaintiff, a Peoria police officer, alleged that she was not reappointed to a certain position because of her sex, in violation of Title VII. The 7th Circuit, in its opinion, reiterated that it has "entirely done away with the distinction between 'direct' and 'indirect' evidence and methods of proof for Title VII discrimination claims....Evidence is evidence. Relevant evidence must be considered and irrelevant evidence disregarded, but no evidence should be treated differently from other evidence because it is labeled 'direct' or 'indirect'." The proper legal standard at the summary judgment stage for a Title VII employment discrimination claim "is simply whether the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that [the plaintiff's] sex caused her reassignment."
On June 19, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff, an elementary school principal, alleged that her employment contract was not renewed because of her race and in retaliation for her protected activity. Ferrill v. Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District, et al., No. 15-3805 (7th Cir. June 19, 2017). The plaintiff sued the School Board alleging racial discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). The 7th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff was not meeting the Board's legitimate performance expectations and therefore failed to establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination. The retaliation claim failed for lack of evidence of a causal connection between the Board's decision and any protected activity.
On May 23, 2017, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, held that the non-renewal of an independent contractor's employment contract with the State of Illinois constitutes adverse job action for purposes of a retaliatory discharge claim under the State Ethics Act. Wynn v. Illinois Department of Human Services, 2017 IL App (1st) 160344 (May 23, 2017). In this case, a contract employee alleged that the state violated the Illinois Ethics Act by intentionally not renewing his independent contractor employment agreement in retaliation for his protected activity of reporting an alleged improper, unauthorized state expenditure to an auditor. After a one-day bench trial, the plaintiff was awarded $782,253.
On April 24, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant employer in a Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to hire him as a truck driver because of his race, after his routine drug test was allegedly positive for marijuana use. Turner v. Hirschbach Motor Lines, No. 15-3263 (7th Cir. April 24, 2017). The plaintiff alleged that the decision to not hire him was racially discriminatory. However, he failed to offer evidence that the racial animus of an employee who was involved in the drug testing procedures, but was not a decision-maker on the hiring decision, caused the defendant to not hire him.