Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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Under the Illinois Public Relations Act, 5 ILCS 315, a union representing public employees collects dues from its members, but only “fair share” fees (a proportionate share of the costs of collective bargaining and contract administration) from non-member employees on whose behalf the union also negotiates. A 2015 suit sought to preclude such fees, arguing that the statute violated the First Amendment by compelling employees who disapprove of the union to contribute money. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, noting that one of the plaintiffs has previously challenged the “fair share” provision in state court and that his claim is barred by claim preclusion. The court also noted the Supreme Court’s 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, upholding, against a First Amendment challenge, a Michigan law that allowed a public employer, whose employees (public-school teachers) were represented by a union, to require those of its employees who did not join the union nevertheless to pay fees to it because they benefited from the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the employer. View "Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Dr. Burton was hired as a professor at the University of Wisconsin‐Platteville. She was promoted to associate professor. Burton subsequently received a complaint from a student who claimed that another professor had sexually harassed her. Burton contacted Dean Throop, and her department chair, Caywood. The offending professor claimed the incident was designed to display to the class social norms by violating them. Days later, Caywood circulated a memo, stating professors were to bring students’ complaints directly to Caywood, rather than going outside of the department. Caywood believed Burton had overreacted. Throop and Caywood then began to withdraw support for a curriculum that Burton was developing. Burton was unanimously granted tenure. Caywood stepped down as department chair. Burton filed a charge of discrimination with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, alleging discrimination based on her sex and retaliation for reporting the student incident and deliberate indifference to her grievances. Administrators pressured her to drop her case. Burton filed suit and contacted the EEOC. Days later, Throop sent Burton a letter identifying seven examples of inappropriate behavior by Burton. After Throop accused Burton of canceling class without permission, Burton sent an email asking all of her students for their help in proving that she had held class that day. The Seventh Circuit affirmed rejection of Burton's claims on summary judgment. "Burton’s frustrations may be significant," but do not amount to actionable retaliation under Title VII or Title IX. View "Burton v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin" on Justia Law

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APS is a broker for the purchase and sale of accounting practices, working through brokers who are treated as independent contractors and are assigned exclusive sales territories. Burford became an APS broker in 2003, under a contract with a “minimum yearly sales volume” requirement. Burford did not meet this requirement for four consecutive years. In 2010, APS’s owner, Holmes spoke with Burford about his poor performance. Burford failed to meet his minimum yearly sales volume requirements again in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, APS terminated Burford’s contract and reassigned his sales territory. Burford filed suit. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, reasoning that Burford’s contract was terminable at will. On remand, a jury found for APS. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the trial court erred by supposedly allowing APS to change the legal theory for its defense in violation of the “mend‐the‐hold” doctrine in Illinois law and abused its discretion by denying admission of an exhibit. The court also rejected an argument that the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence on whether APS waived its right to enforce the minimum sales requirement. View "Estate of Burford v. Accounting Practice Sales, Inc" on Justia Law

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Illinois’ Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) subsidizes childcare services for low-income and at-risk families. The program pays about 60,000 childcare providers. The Home Services Program (HSP) pays about 25,000 “personal assistants” who help “customers” with basic living needs. The Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (IPLRA) generally allows public employees in a bargaining unit to choose, by majority vote, an exclusive bargaining representative to negotiate with the state over employment terms. A majority of both HSP and CCAP providers chose SEIU as their exclusive bargaining representative, but the providers are under no obligation to join SEIU or pay dues. SEIU cannot discriminate against a provider because of membership or lack thereof, so providers are able to present their own grievances to the state, publicly oppose the SEIU, and associate with whomever they want, without retaliation from the union. Providers sued the SEIU and Illinois officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that the IPLRA violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments because the statute forces them into an agency-like association with SEIU. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. IPLRA’s authorization of a majority-elected exclusive bargaining representative does not compel an association that triggers heightened First Amendment scrutiny; the law survives rational basis analysis. View "Hill v. Service Employees International Union" on Justia Law

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McGreal began working as an Orland Park police officer in 2005. Conflict between McGreal and the department arose in 2009, which culminated in McGreal’s firing in 2010. McGreal alleges that he was fired because of his exercise of protected speech at a village board meeting on November 2, 2009, concerning a proposal to lay off as many as seven full‐time police officers. McGreal, the elected secretary of the local police union, allegedly presented three alternative solutions; he claims the defendants retaliated by accusing, interrogating, and ultimately firing him under the pretext of unsubstantiated violations of department policy. The defendants deny knowing that McGreal even attended the board meeting and claim that McGreal was legitimately fired because of misconduct, including an improper traffic stop; two unauthorized, unnecessary, dangerous high‐speed chases; McGreal’s behavior at and after an awards banquet; reckless driving while off-duty; and violation of a no-contact order during the ensuing investigation. The defendants allege that McGreal lied during questioning about each of those incidents. An arbitrator and a state court sustained McGreal’s termination. McGreal filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, finding that McGreal offered no admissible evidence supporting his claims for relief. View "McGreal v. McCarthy" on Justia Law

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Whitaker worked for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, processing applications for benefits and answering phones. In 2009, Whitaker filed a disability form regarding her chronic back pain. She received permission to stand and stretch for five minutes once every 30 minutes during the workday. In 2010, Whitaker took consecutive leaves of absence. At times she indicated that she was requesting leave due to her disability. At other times it was less clear why she requested leave. The Department fired Whitaker when she did not return to work after exhausting her unpaid statutory and contractual medical leave. Whitaker sued, claiming that the Department failed to accommodate her disability and terminated her employment in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794. The district court granted the Department summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that Whitaker failed to establish that she was an “otherwise qualified” employee, as required by the Rehabilitation Act. The only medical documents Whitaker supplied were two terse doctor notes, stating “medical leave of absence until 11/17/10” and “medical leave of absence until 12/17/10.” The notes did not explain whether Whitaker was receiving treatment or the likely effectiveness of any treatment. View "Whitaker v. Wisconsin Department of Health Services" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Roake, an off-duty Forest Preserve District of Cook County police officer, took champagne to a department police station to celebrate the New Year, allegedly with permission from a sergeant. In January 2014, the department initiated disciplinary proceedings against Roake for his participation in the New Year’s Eve gathering. Roake alleges that hearing officers “upheld the charges” against him, and that he saw the “handwriting on the wall,” so he resigned his job. Roake claimed that his involvement in the party was a pretext for disciplining him because he had previously reported official misconduct within the department: an October 2013 incident involved racial profiling; the other, around February 6, 2014, involved a fellow officer whom Roake believed had been unjustly disciplined. Roake alleges that officials of the Forest Preserve department told certain prospective employers that he had consumed alcohol while on duty, damaging his professional reputation and making it difficult for him to find work. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of his retaliation action under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Roake did not show that he was disciplined for engaging in constitutionally protected speech, or that he was deprived of a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest without due process. View "Roake v. Forest Preserve District of Cook County" on Justia Law

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In 2005, while serving in the Army National Guard, Bird injured a tendon in his right shoulder. He was operated on in 2006. He reported to Veterans Affairs doctors that he suffered hearing loss, migraines, and stiffness and pain in his hands, back and right shoulder, as well as anxiety, weakness in gripping objects, and ringing in his ears. The medical records include contradictory opinions from treating physicians. The Department of Veterans Affairs gave Bird a 70% service-connected disability rating but pays him at the 100% rate because they found him unemployable. The Social Security Administration denied Douglas Bird’s application for disability insurance benefits. The district court remanded. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The VA’s finding that Bird is 70% disabled and unemployable does not establish that he is entitled to SSA benefits. There are differences in how the agencies evaluate claims: the VA’s evaluation is pro-claimant rather than neutral. The grounds for the VA’s decision finding Bird to be 70% disabled and unemployable were not available to the ALJ and neither were the results of Bird’s x-ray and MRI. The record even includes evidence conflicting with a finding of disability. View "Bird v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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PFAC is the collective‐bargaining representative for more than 1,200 part‐time faculty members at Columbia College Chicago. The parties agreed to continue under a 2006-2010 collective bargaining agreement while they bargained for a successor agreement. During negotiations, Columbia unilaterally decided to reduce the credit hours for 10 courses in its School of Fine and Performing Arts (SFPA). Consistent with the CBA, Columbia notified part‐time faculty members affected by these changes, but not PFAC. PFAC filed an unfair‐labor‐practice charge regarding Columbia’s refusal to bargain over the effects reduction of course credit hours in a different department. The parties settled that charge. Negotiations broke down. PFAC learned of the SFPA credit‐hour reductions and demanded to bargain. In February 2012, PFAC called for Columbia to resume negotiations. Columbia responded that it had no obligation to bargain about the course‐credit‐hour reductions. The parties resumed negotiations in June. In August, the NLRB lodged a complaint against Columbia, alleging violations of 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(1),(5), by failing to bargain: over the effects of the credit‐hour reductions before May 2012; for a successor CBA from February to June 2012; and in good faith. The Board upheld the charges and awarded bargaining expenses. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part. Columbia was not required to bargain over the effects of the credit‐hour reductions. The college had already satisfied its statutory bargaining duty on this issue when it negotiated and entered into the 2006 CBA. View "National Labor Relations Board v. Columbia College Chicago" on Justia Law

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Dana operates a Summit, Illinois truck‐tank washing facility. Dana employees drain residual product from the truck’s metal tank; insert a mechanical spinner that rotates scrubbers, dousing it with soap or solvents; then rinse the tank with water. Occasionally, employees have to enter a tank and manually clean residual sludge. OSHA has regulations for entering these “permit‐required confined spaces (PRCSs),” 29 C.F.R. 1910.146: the employee must obtain an entry permit and checklist of required safety precautions; must hook a full‐body harness to a mechanical retrieval device that can pull him out of the tank; must test the tank air; and must wear a respirator and conduct continuous atmospheric testing. While an employee is in the tank, automatic blowers force fresh air into it. Another employee must be on standby. Employees may not enter a tank before it has been mechanically cleaned. Fox encountered a problem with a tank before beginning the mechanical cleaning. He entered the tank without attaching the retrieval device or following permit procedures. After a short time, another employee saw Fox unconscious in the chemical sludge and called the fire department. A TV news crew broadcast the rescue. An OSHA inspector saw it; she arrived at the facility within three hours of the accident, inspected and issued citations for serious and willful violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. An ALJ vacated some of the citation items, finding that Dana qualified for the less stringent “alternate entry procedures.” The Commission held that Dana was not eligible for the alternate entry procedures and reinstated the citation items. The Seventh Circuit rejected a petition for review. Dana did not provide a compelling reason to overturn the Commission’s determinations. View "Dana Container, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law