On August 31, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer in a federal lawsuit in which the plaintiff, a tenured university professor, alleged that the university discriminated against him because of his race, retaliated against him for complaining about discrimination, denied him due process of law, defamed him, and breached an employment contract created by an employee handbook. Grant v. Trustees of Indiana University, et al., No. 16-1958 (7th Cir. 8/31/2017). The question on summary judgment is whether the defendants have shown that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. On appeal, the appellate court resolves all factual disputes and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. However, he is only entitled to the benefit of inferences supported by admissible evidence, not those supported only by speculation or conjecture.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
On August 31, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer in a Title VII sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit in which the former employee, a Human Resources Manager, alleged that her employment was terminated because of her sex, female, and in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment. Owens v. Old Wisconsin Sausage Company, Inc., No. 16-3875 (7th Cir. 8/31/2017). The plaintiff was the only female manager. Another manager commented to her that the employer tended to be a "boys' club." After the decision terminate her employment, the employer produced a memo that listed a myriad of performance-based and other reasons for her termination.
On August 18, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that she was fired because of her gender, female, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), and in retaliation for taking a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), in violation of the FMLA. Mourning v. Ternes Packaging, Indiana, Inc., No. 16-1650 (7th Cir. 8/18/2017). The employer granted the employee's request for FMLA leave to undergo medical treatment. While she was on medical leave, a group of her subordinate employees submitted an internal complaint about her to management. The employer fired the employee after she returned from her FMLA leave for performance-based reasons relating to the complaint against her. She was replaced by another female.
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.
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."