On July 21, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a lawsuit in which a federal employee alleged that his lack of promotion or salary increase was discriminatory on the basis of his race and sex, that he was subjected to unlawful retaliation for complaining about it, and that he was subjected to a hostile work environment. Poullard v. McDonald, Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, No. 15-1962 (7th Cir. 7/21/2016). In the Title VII disparate-pay context, the question is whether a plaintiff may show equal work for unequal pay based on his or her protected class. The federal employee's pay discrimination claim failed because he did not identify a similarly situated employee outside of his protected classes who was paid more for the same work. It was difficult for the plaintiff to argue that his supervisor was similarly situated, especially where the supervisor had more work experience and a higher grade level.
Title VII (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended)
On July 22, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment on claims alleged by a teacher that she was not promoted to various positions because of her gender, race and age, in violation of Title VII, Section 1981, and the ADEA. Riley v. Elkhart Community Schools, No. 15-3166 (7th Cir. 7/22/2016). The district court correctly held that the plaintiff failed to produce sufficient evidence for any of her claims to survive summary judgment. To proceed to trial on a failure to promote claim, a plaintiff must produce sufficient direct or circumstantial evidence that the employer's promotion decisions were intentionally discriminatory or make an indirect case of employment discrimination under the burden-shifting method. To demonstrate a prima facie case of failure to promote, a plaintiff must produce evidence showing that: (1) she was a member of a protected class; (2) she was qualified for the position sought; (3) she was rejected for the position; and (4) the employer promoted someone outside of the protected class who was not better qualified for the position.
On July 14, 2016, the 7th Circuit reversed the dismissal of a Title VII retaliation claim. Hatcher v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, et al., No. 15-1599 (7th Cir. 7/14/2016). The plaintiff, a university professor, claimed that she was denied tenure on the basis of her gender and in retaliation for filing a charge of gender discrimination against the university with the EEOC. The university contended that it denied her tenure because she allegedly produced insufficient scholarship. The district court dismissed the retaliation claim for failure to state a cause of action. The 7th Circuit held that her complaint stated a plausible Title VII retaliation claim for filing her charge with the EEOC.
On June 28, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by a registered nurse in which she claimed that she was fired from her job because of her age and race, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). Simpson v. Franciscan Alliance, Inc., No. 15-2679 (7th Cir. 6/28/2016). The 7th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination or offer evidence that the employer's proffered reason for her termination was pretext for employment discrimination. There was no evidence that similarly situated employees outside of the plaintiff's protected classes were treated more favorably than her under similar circumstances. The plaintiff's vague and conclusory assertions were not enough. She did not submit admissible evidence of other nurses who were not disciplined or fired after engaging in similar misconduct.
On June 14, 2016, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") published expansive new guidelines that explain and clarify the legal rights of pregnant employees under federal law. Federal law protects employees against pregnancy-based discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA") prohibits employers from discrimination against employees based on present or past pregnancy, intended pregnancy, medical conditions related to pregnancy, and having or considering an abortion. Employers cannot terminate, refuse to hire or promote, or demote an employee based on any of these factors. Employers are also prohibited from forcing an employee to take a leave of absence for any of these reasons, even if the employer believes that work would pose a risk to the employee or her pregnancy. However, an employer is not required to keep an employee in a job that she is unable to perform or in which she would pose a significant safety risk to others in the workplace.
On April 27, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District, held that hostile work environment based on disability harassment as well as failure to provide reasonable accommodation are separate and distinct claims under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA"). Rozsavolgyi v. City of Aurora, 2016 IL App (2d) 150493 (4/27/2016). The IHRA prohibits discrimination in employment and other contexts based on a variety of protected classifications, including disability. In this case, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant violated the IHRA by discriminating against her on the basis of her disabilities, subjecting her to harassment on the basis of her disabilities (creating a hostile work environment), failing to provide her with reasonable accommodation for her disabilities, and retaliating against her for her complaints by terminating her employment. On appeal, the defendant argued, among other things, that there is no separate claim for disability harassment or failure to accommodate under the IHRA. The appellate court disagreed and reached the opposite conclusion through its statutory interpretation of the IHRA, based on Illinois Human Rights Commission decisions, legislative history, and federal court decisions construing analogous federal statutes.
On April 27, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant discriminated against her on the basis of her race (black), in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), and failed to provide her with a reasonable accommodation for her disability (chronic fatigue syndrome), in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Wells v. Winnebago County, Illinois, No. 15-1805 (7th Cir., 4/27/2016). The district court granted summary judgment on two grounds: (1) that any discrimination was attributable to state rather than county workers; and (2) there was not enough evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find discrimination. The 7th Circuit disagreed with the district court's first reason, stating that employers must control the behavior of others in the workplace to ensure nondiscriminatory work conditions; and that the federal anti-discrimination laws cannot be so easily evaded.
On March 18, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff sued the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") for workplace discrimination on the basis of race, retaliation for filing prior EEOC charges, and hostile work environment. Boss v. Castro, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, No. 14-2996 (7th Cir., 3/18/2016). The plaintiff was employed by HUD as a general engineer for nearly a decade. During his employment, he filed one complaint of sex, race and age discrimination with the EEOC, followed by another complaint of race discrimination and retaliation. In his federal lawsuit, the plaintiff claimed that various negative job actions were taken against him in retaliation for his EEOC complaints and because of his race. The district court granted summary judgment on the grounds that the incidents of which he complained did not constitute adverse employment actions, he was not subjected to disparate treatment, and he was not subjected to a hostile work environment.
On April 6, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her employment was unlawfully terminated on the basis of her sex, race and national origin. Chaib v. The GEO Group, Inc., No. 15-1614 (7th Cir., 4/6/2016). The defendant contended that it fired the plaintiff for "unbecoming conduct" because she allegedly improperly extended her medical leave after a workplace injury. She alleged that she was a victim of employment discrimination as well as retaliation for internal complaints of workplace discrimination that she had submitted to the defendant's human resources department.
On April 14, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII gender discrimination case, in which a female deputy sheriff alleged that she was unlawfully discharged from employment on the basis of her gender. Kuttner v. Zaruba, et al., No. 14-3812 (7th Cir., 4/14/2016). On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the district court unduly restricted discovery and improperly granted summary judgment. The plaintiff allegedly was discharged for misconduct--wearing her official uniform and badge while trying to collect from someone who owed money to her boyfriend--in violation of departmental regulations. She filed a Charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging that the sheriff had discriminated against her on the basis of her sex and, after she received a Notice of Right to Sue from the EEOC, she filed a federal lawsuit claiming sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.