Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Railey clocked in and out of work at the Sunset Food Mart by placing her hand on a biometric scanner. She brought a class action in state court in 2019 alleging violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. Two years into litigation, Sunset removed the case to federal court, alleging that Railey’s claims were completely preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act. Sunset explained the timing of the removal by pointing to an interrogatory response it received from Railey in October 2020 in which she confirmed her membership in a labor union.The district court found Sunset’s removal untimely. Citing the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1453(c)(1), the Seventh Circuit affirmed the remand to state court. A Class Action Fairness Act exception for “home-state controversies” directs that district courts “shall decline to exercise jurisdiction” over a class action in which “two-thirds or more of the members of all proposed plaintiff classes in the aggregate, and the primary defendants, are citizens of the State in which the action was originally filed,” 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(4)(B). Railey brought a putative class action on behalf of Illinois citizens against a small Illinois grocery chain under Illinois law. Sunset missed its preemption-based removal window. View "Railey v. Sunset Food Mart, Inc." on Justia Law

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Citing a budget deficit, Chicago’s Board of Education laid off 1,077 teachers and 393 paraprofessional educators in 2011. The Chicago Teachers Union and a class of teachers (CTU) sued, alleging that the layoffs discriminated against African-American teachers and paraprofessionals in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. 2000e.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Board. While CTU made a prima facie case of disparate impact with evidence that African-Americans comprised approximately 30% of Union members at the time of the layoffs but made up just over 40% of Union members receiving layoff notices, the Board’s decision to tie layoffs to declining enrollment in schools was legitimate, job-related, and consistent with business necessity. Beyond noting the existence of open positions for which laid-off employees were qualified, CTU did not meet its burden of establishing that its proposed alternative of transferring employees was “available, equally valid and less discriminatory.” The Illinois statute’s designation of hiring discretion to principals neither promotes discrimination nor bears any relationship to the Board’s decision to tie layoffs to declining enrollment and the transfer alternative proposed by CTU is not consistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. CTU did not put forth any evidence of intentional discrimination by the Board. View "Chicago Teachers Union v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Kerry began requiring workers to use fingerprints to clock in and out. Plaintiffs, former employees, say that Kerry did not obtain their consent before doing so in violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit as preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185 because its resolution depends on the interpretation of collective-bargaining agreements between Kerry and the plaintiffs' union. Federal law prevents states from interfering in relations between unions and private employers. Whether a topic of bargaining is mandatory or permissive, the union is the workers’ agent. If labor and management want to bargain collectively about particular working conditions, they are free to do so. Workers cannot insist that management bypass the union and deal with them directly about these subjects. The use of biometric data is a topic for bargaining between unions and management. States cannot bypass the mechanisms of federal law and authorize direct negotiation or litigation between workers and management. View "Fernandez v. Kerry, Inc." on Justia Law

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Mahran, an Egyptian Muslim, sued Advocate Christ Medical Center, alleging employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Illinois Human Rights Act. Mahran, a pharmacist, alleged that Advocate failed to accommodate his need for prayer breaks; disciplined and later fired him based on his race, religion, and national origin; retaliated against him for reporting racial and religious discrimination; and subjected him to a hostile work environment based on his race, religion, and national origin. The district judge rejected all of the claims on summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the judge wrongly required Mahran to show that Advocate’s failure to accommodate his prayer breaks resulted in an adverse employment action and that the judge failed to consider the totality of the evidence in evaluating his hostile-workplace claim. Mahran expressly agreed at trial that an adverse employment action is an element of a prima facie Title VII claim for failure to accommodate an employee’s religious practice. He cannot take the opposite position. While the judge should have considered all the evidence Mahran adduced in support of his hostile workplace claim, there was not enough evidence for a jury to find that Advocate subjected him to a hostile work environment. View "Mahran v. Advocate Christ Medical Center" on Justia Law

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Bless was employed by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, 1996-2013. In 2004, Bless earned his law degree and began practicing law in addition to working as a police officer. The Sheriff’s Office requires its employees to request and receive authorization before engaging in secondary employment. In 2004-2008, Bless received the required approval. In 2008, Bless was involved in a collision while on duty. He sustained injuries, was placed on disability leave, and received temporary disability benefits. Shortly after the accident, Bless was elected as a Republican McHenry County Commissioner. Soon after his return to work as a police officer, Bless was transferred to a less desirable shift.Meanwhile, the County discovered that Bless was driving his car while on disability leave although he had a driving restriction. The Office of Professional Review found no records of secondary employment requests for Bless for 2009-2010. Bless claimed that he had submitted those requests. OPR brought filed a complaint with the Merit Board, which found that Bless had engaged in unauthorized secondary employment, violated driving restrictions, and lied to OPR investigators; it directed the Sheriff’s Office to fire Bless. After his termination, Bless filed suit, alleging political retaliation under 42 U.S.C. 1983 (the Sheriff is a Democrat) and race discrimination under section 1983 and Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of both claims on summary judgment. View "Bless v. Cook County Sheriff's Office" on Justia Law

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Chicago offers public-school teachers higher pay if they earn extra college credits. Graham sought a higher salary under this program in July 2015, only to have her application ignored. She tried again in September and was fired on the ground that her application had been backdated, which the Board of Education considered fraud. A hearing officer ordered her reinstated with back pay. Graham alleges the Board did not honor this decision in full, published a declaration that she is a fraudster, and refused to consider her for open positions. Graham sued, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. 1983 by discriminating against her on account of sex and race and of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by depriving her of pension and health benefits.The Seventh Circuit vacated the dismissal of the complaint. The complaint does not identify other employees who received better treatment from the school system but It is enough for a plaintiff to assert that she was treated worse because of protected characteristics. The school system’s plans are exempt from ERISA. Because the state not only funds the charter schools but also approves their establishment and continued existence, it is not appropriate to treat them as private institutions subject to public regulation. View "Graham v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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The Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 207(a) generally requires that covered workers be paid extra for overtime work, but it exempts from that requirement some retail and service employees who are paid bona fide commissions. Brex auto repair technicians claimed that Brex’s complex payment plan is not a true commission so that under the Act they are paid hourly wages and are entitled to overtime pay. To arrive at a technician’s take-home pay, “Brex starts with the total cost charged to customers for each technician’s weekly repairs and applies a series of divisions, multiplications, and additions, some of which are redundant.” The hourly wage has a floor that applies even if the mechanic’s hourly production is anemic during a particular pay period, which is one and a half times the applicable state minimum wage, rounded up. The alternative wage floor is triggered in only 16 percent of paychecks; 84 percent of Brex paychecks are paid on the commission scale.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Brex based on the bonafide commission exemption. Undisputed evidence showed that there was substantial hourly and weekly variation in pay and that the guarantees are “computed in accordance with a bona fide commission payment plan or formula under which the computed commissions vary in accordance with the employee’s performance on the job.” View "Reed v. Brex Inc." on Justia Law

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Brooks, an African American police officer, made statements on multiple occasions complaining that his employer, the Kankakee, Illinois, favored white officers. The City issued a reprimand letter, ordering Brooks to stop making such statements and warning him that he faced discipline up to and including termination should he engage in further public disparagement. Brooks filed a complaint, alleging that Kankakee had retaliated against him, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-3(a), by failing to promote him and by issuing to him a reprimand letter after he had engaged in protected activity. In response to a motion for summary judgment, Brooks attempted to introduce a new claim alleging that the City’s promotional policies had a disparate impact on minority officers.The district court dismissed Brooks’s disparate impact claim and granted the City summary judgment on his failure-to-promote retaliation claim. The court denied summary judgment on Brooks’s retaliation-by-reprimand claim, concluding that a genuine issue of material fact remained as to whether Brooks’s statements constituted protected activity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of the City. The jury was entitled to conclude that each of Brooks’s statements included varying degrees of factual falsehoods. While the district court instructed the jury to find more than legally required (three acts of retaliation), a proper jury instruction would not have made a difference in the outcome. View "Brooks v. City of Kankakee" on Justia Law

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A union filed charges of unfair labor practices against Mondelez, a manufacturer of baked goods. An administrative law judge found that the company had unlawfully discharged union officials, 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(1), (3); made unilateral changes to various conditions of employment, related to short-term disability leave, union access to new hires, and employee shift schedules, section 158(a)(1), (5); and failed to timely and completely provide relevant information the union requested, section 158(a)(1), (5). The Board agreed. The Seventh Circuit granted the Board’s application for enforcement. The Board reasonably concluded that Mondelez’s justification for discharging the officials was pretextual. Substantial evidence supported the findings concerning unilateral changes to conditions of employment. It was reasonable for the Board to conclude that Mondelez failed to provide a complete record of the new hires as requested. View "Mondelez Global LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Chatman, an African-American, worked as an instructor assistant, 1988-1996. From 1997-2009, she worked as a school library assistant. In 2009, the Board of Education informed her that it was eliminating her position. Chatman learned that the Board had replaced Chatman (age 62) with a younger, non-African American employee in the same role. Chatman filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the EEOC and then sued in Illinois state court. The Board settled. In addition to a monetary payment, the district was to arrange for interviews for open positions for which Chatman was qualified. Chatman began identifying available positions but did not receive any job offer. She filed a new charge with the EEOC and later filed suit, alleging violations of Title VII’s anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation provisions, and violation of the anti-discrimination provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Board, finding certain claims barred by the statute of limitations, and, regarding other positions, that Chatman could not establish that she was qualified for the positions, nor could she establish that the Board’s nondiscriminatory reasons for not offering her the positions were pretextual for discrimination. Chatman could not establish that she was denied a job because of her prior protected activity. View "Chatman v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law