Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

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

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David, an African-American woman over the age of 40, was an employee of the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) from 1980-2012. She announced in 2011 that she planned to retire in 2012. She then requested a change in title and an increase in salary because she was performing additional responsibilities related to the implementation of a software system; she was not awarded either. CCC characterized her additional responsibilities as “lateral,” not requiring a change in title. Giving David a raise a raise over a certain amount would have resulted in a fine by the State University Retirement System. Following her retirement, her responsibilities were performed by an Asian man under the age of 40, who was paid substantially more than David. David sued, alleging that she was denied a pay increase on the basis of her race, sex, and age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621.; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; and the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. 206(d). The district court granted CCC summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the record, assessed in its entirety, does not contain sufficient evidence to permit a verdict for David on any of the counts. David’s “comparator” employees performed functions she could not perform and her announcement of her intent to retire left CCC with little motivation to respond. View "David v. Board of Trustees of Community College District 508" on Justia Law

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Wink had been employed by Miller since 1999. In July 2011, Miller granted Wink’s request for intermittent Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA, 29 U.S.C. 2612(a)(1)) leave through July 2012 to take her autistic two-year-old son to medical appointments and therapy. In February 2012, after Wink’s son was expelled from day care, Miller agreed to a hybrid arrangement. Wink could work from home two days per week, subtracting from the normal eight-hour workday the hours in which she was taking care of her son as uncompensated hours of FMLA leave time. In the summer of 2012, Miller, experiencing financial problems, decided that no employees would be allowed to work at home. On a Friday, the company gave Wink an ultimatum. On Monday, Wink reported to work, explained that she was unable to obtain day care for her son over the weekend, and left to take care of her child. She was terminated that day. A jury returned a verdict finding retaliation in violation of FMLA, violation of a Wisconsin statute, and breach of contract, but rejected a claim that Miller had interfered with Wink’s rights under FMLA. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. FMLA entitled Wink to time off necessary to care for her son. View "Wink v. Miller Compressing Co." on Justia Law

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Darden operates restaurants throughout Illinois under brand names including Olive Garden and Red Lobster. The plaintiffs worked intermittently as hourly employees at Darden-owned restaurants from 2004-2012. After quitting, they brought a proposed class action alleging that Darden failed to pay them pro rata vacation pay upon separation in violation of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, 820 ILCS 115/1-15. The district judge declined to certify their proposed class and granted Darden summary judgment on Clark’s individual claim. McMaster settled his claim with Darden, reserving the right to appeal the denial of class certification. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The proposed class definition, “All persons separated from hourly employment with [Darden] in Illinois between December 11, 2003, and the conclusion of this action[] who were subject to Darden’s Vacation Policy … and who did not receive all earned vacation pay benefits,” described an impermissible “fail safe” class, and their proposed alternative did not satisfy FRCP 23. The statute does not mandate paid time off. It merely prohibits the forfeiture of accrued earned vacation pay upon separation if the employee is otherwise eligible for paid vacation. Darden’s policy on paid vacation covered only full-time employees. Clark was ineligible because she worked part-time. View "McCaster v. Darden Restaurants, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ramirez, born in Mexico, alleges that his former employer, T&H, subjected him to discriminatory working conditions and a hostile work environment based on his national original and fired him in retaliation for reporting the harassment, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. Nearly three years into discovery, Ramirez had not located any witnesses to corroborate his allegations. His attorney was seeking leave to withdraw. Ramirez then located three former T&H co-workers, willing to testify on his behalf. The witnesses, Hernandez, Velasquez, and Villagrana were serially deposed; all three testified that they had witnessed a supervisor refer to Ramirez as a burro. Three months later, Villagrana sent a text to Ramirez’s counsel asking for a letter “saying what percent I will receive when the case is settled.” Ramirez’s counsel reported the text to defense counsel. Villagrana also contacted a T&H employee, stating that he and the others were no longer supporting Ramirez and that he was willing to testify for T&H if he could get his job back. After hearing testimony, the district court dismissed the case with prejudice, finding “clear and convincing evidence of witness tampering.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the finding was supported by sufficient evidence and that the sanction was reasonable. View "Ramirez v. T&H Lemont, Inc." on Justia Law

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Wilson was an admissions representative, recruiting students to CEC’s culinary arts college. Wilson earned a bonus for each student that he recruited above a threshold who either completed a full course or a year of study. If a representative was terminated, he was entitled only to bonuses already earned, not including students “in the pipeline.” CEC reserved the right to “terminate or amend” the contract at any time, for any reason, in its sole discretion. The Education Department released regulations, to become effective in July 2011, prohibiting institutions participating in Title IV student financial aid programs from providing bonuses based on securing enrollment. CEC decided to pay bonuses that were earned as of February 28, 2011, depriving Wilson of bonuses that were in the pipeline. CEC raised the base salary by at least the total of 3% plus 75% of each representative’s previous two years’ bonuses. Wilson sued. The Seventh Circuit remanded, holding that Wilson must prove that CEC exercised its discretion in a manner contrary to the parties' reasonable expectations. On remand, the district court rejected an argument that cost savings, not compliance with the regulations, drove CEC’s decision. There were no cost savings to CEC. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Even accepting Wilson’s characterization, the evidence is insufficient to allow a jury to reasonably conclude that CEC breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. View "Wilson v. Career Education Corp." on Justia Law

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RiverStone had collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with the union, requiring RiverStone to contribute a specified dollar amount to specified welfare and pension funds “for each hour for which an employee receives wages under the terms of this Agreement.” RiverStone’s employees voted to decertify the union. RiverStone stopped contributing to the funds, which filed suit under 29 U.S.C. 1145, the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980, seeking payment of the contributions that would have been due under the last CBA until its 2015 expiration. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the funds. The CBA made the company’s obligations to the fund survive decertification, and a union is not the only party with standing to enforce an employer’s obligation to contribute to an employee welfare plan. Once multiemployer plans promise benefits to employees, they must pay even if the contributions they expected do not materialize, so “if some employers do not pay, others must make up the difference.” Nothing in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) makes the obligation to contribute depend on the existence of a valid CBA. The CBA became unenforceable by the union when the union was decertified, but the agreement did not cease to exist until its term ended. View "Midwest Operating Engineers Welfare Fund v. Cleveland Quarry" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a putative class action suit against their former employer, alleging violations of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (IWPCA), and other state wage payment statutes, including the New York Labor Law and California Labor Code. They claimed that Medline’s practice of accounting for year-to-year sales declines in calculating and paying commissions was impermissible under the terms of their employment agreements and state wage laws. The district court granted Medline summary judgment, finding that plaintiffs had not performed enough work in Illinois for the IWPCA to apply and that Medline and the plaintiffs had agreed to Medline’s method of calculating commissions, so there was no violation of state wage laws. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Medline’s commission structure is consistent with the written agreements. The court rejected an argument that the structure was, nonetheless, a per se violation of New York and California labor law because it impermissibly recoups Medline’s business losses from its Sales Representatives, even when those losses are outside Sales Representatives’ control. Medline’s inclusion of negative growth in its commission calculation was not an unlawful deduction in disguise, but rather a valid means of incentivizing their salespeople to grow business in their assigned territories. View "Cohan v. Medline Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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Former students who participated on Penn’s women’s track and field team, regulated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sued Penn, the NCAA, and more than 120 other NCAA Division I member schools, alleging that student athletes are “employees” within the meaning of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201 and violated the FLSA by not paying their athletes a minimum wage. The district court dismissed, holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue any of the defendants other than Penn, and failed to state a claim against Penn because student athletes are not employees under the FLSA. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The plaintiffs did not plausibly allege any injury traceable to, or redressable by, any defendant other than Penn. Citing the Department of Labor Field Operations Handbook, the court reasoned that NCAA-regulated sports are “extracurricular,” “interscholastic athletic” activities and that the Department did not intend the FLSA to apply to student athletes. View "Berger v. National Collegiate Athletic Association" on Justia Law

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Gracia began working on the SigmaTron assembly line in 1999. Gracia was promoted multiple times and became assembly supervisor in 2004, reporting to Silverman. In 2007, Silverman sent Gracia emails containing photographs of partially nude women in degrading poses. In 2008, he sent Gracia an email with a vulgar photo of her younger sister . Gracia did not object to Silverman and did not inform the human resources department. Gracia knew that Silverman and Executive Vice-president Fairhead (brother of the CEO), were friends; she feared retaliation. In 2008, Silverman wrote Gracia up for tardiness. Gracia had been late several times. Silverman had not previously objected to her schedule and had previously described Gracia‘s attendance as “excellent.” Gracia received late night calls from Silverman, asking her to join him at a party. A few weeks after she declined that invitation, Gracia was suspended, then reported the harassment to human resources. That department turned the matter over to Fairhead. Gracia reported to the EEOC. Weeks later, Gracia purportedly allowed the use of incorrect materials on the assembly line and was terminated. Another employee testified that no other employee had ever been fired for that common mistake and that Silverman had stated that he was out to get Gracia. Gracia sued. The jury rejected a sexual harassment claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed an award $57,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages for retaliation. View "Gracia v. SigmaTron International, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was supervising a BNSF crew, removing and reinstalling timber crossing planks. The crew had difficulty removing one plank, and with plaintiff’s approval, used a front‐end loader, which caused the plank to fly loose as plaintiff was walking on the track and to strike his leg. Days later he went to his doctor and learned that he had fractured his tibia. After first stating that he had been injured at home, on advice of his union, plaintiff told his supervisor, Veitz, about the injury. BNSF paid his medical bills and, pursuant to its policy, staged a reenactment and concluded that plaintiff had been careless. Later, a crew member told Veitz that he thought plaintiff was injured 10 days before the incident, while removing railroad ties from railroad property. Pursuant to its collective bargaining agreement, BNSF investigated. For his carelessness in the front-loader incident (which cost it medical expenses), BNSF imposed a 30-day suspension, but discharged plaintiff for the theft. Veitz testified that he had not given plaintiff permission to take ties, which are soaked in creosote. BNSF does not give or sell creosote products to employees or the public because of potential hazards The National Railroad Adjustment Board and OSHA denied plaintiff’s appeals. A jury awarded plaintiff damages under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, which forbids a railroad to discriminate against an employee for reporting a work-related injury, 49 U.S.C. 20109(a). The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding no evidence that the firing was related to the injury report. The company has a firm policy of firing employees discovered to have stolen company property. View "Koziara v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law