Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Smithson v. Austin
The Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) operates schools for military families. Smithson has worked as a DODEA science teacher since 2004. Smithson’s medical conditions include migraines, intracranial hypertension, affective disorder, vertigo, and ADHD. These conditions, with the required medications, have caused her problems with balance, walking, driving, breathing, vision, speech, and memory. In 2010, Smithson first obtained accommodations–an occasional flexible start time and permission to be seated during part of the teaching day. In 2014-2016, Smithson's requests for additional accommodations were largely granted. Principal Villareal's response to Smithson’s request for a flexible duty reporting time of up to two hours was, “The employee is approved to use sick leave for any absence from school up to two hours, barring any undue hardship to the school schedule.” Later, Smithson indicated that she would be late every day but would arrive before her first instructional section. Smithson then used sick leave as needed. During the pandemic, Smithson began to work from home, full-time, in DODEA’s Virtual School.Smithson sued under the Rehabilitation Act for disability discrimination and failure to accommodate when she was required to use a half-day of sick leave whenever she arrived late. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of DODEA. In-person attendance was an essential function of Smithson’s position and her need to miss up to two hours each morning demonstrated that she could not perform this essential function. A frequent two-hour delay at the beginning of the school day is not the same as an infrequent 15-minute delay, as permitted under her original accommodation. View "Smithson v. Austin" on Justia Law
Fitschen v. Kijakazi
Fitschen was diagnosed with advanced cancer and stopped working. In 2000 the Social Security Administration (SSA) found Fitschen eligible for disability benefits. Fitschen returned to work in 2001 but continued to receive benefits for a nine-month “trial work period,” 42 U.S.C. 422(c)(4). After that period, he could continue to work and receive benefits for another 36-month period if his wages did not exceed the level at which a person is deemed to be capable of engaging in substantial work activity. The SSA's 2003 review determined that Fitschen had engaged in substantial work and should not have received benefits for much of 2002-2003. The SSA notified him of his overpayment liability but his benefits continued because he had again ceased substantial work. Fitschen again returned to work in 2004 but did not report the change. The SSA initiated another review in 2007 and suspended his benefits. The SSA may waive recovery of overpayments if the recipient was without fault.In 2019 the Commissioner of Social Security found Fitschen liable for an overpayment of $50,289.70 and declined to waive recovery. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the SSA was procedurally barred from recovering the overpayment because it failed to comply with its “reopening” regulation; the overpayment assessment did not “reopen” Fitschen’s initial eligibility determination or any later determination concerning the continuation or recomputation of his benefits. Substantial evidence supports the finding that Fitschen was at fault. View "Fitschen v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law
Fuller v. McDonough
Fuller, a VA medical technician, began treatment for mental disorders in 2016. Subsequently, a patient complained about how Fuller had treated him. Fuller received a written letter of counseling. Twice, a VA employee who was dating Fuller’s second-level supervisor made sexual remarks to Fuller. Fuller complained to VA management. Fuller insulted her coworker and received a letter of reprimand. Fuller failed to prepare a procedure room, which caused a delay. Fuller argued with a coworker in front of a patient.Fuller then requested an accommodation, based on her mental health conditions. Fuller was transferred to a different supervisor. Fuller was reported for violating sterilization protocol and received a notice of proposed removal based on that incident; failure to carry out assigned work, which caused a delay in patient care; and conduct unbecoming a federal employee. Fuller rejected a “last chance agreement,” in which the VA promised to hold her removal in abeyance if Fuller waived her rights to bring existing or future claims and to use the EEOC complaints procedure. She was then terminated.The EEOC found no discrimination. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the VA in Fuller’s suit, alleging retaliation under Title VII and the Rehabilitation Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, 29 U.S.C. 791. The reprimand was not an adverse employment action. Fuller cannot establish causation for her retaliation theories based on her accommodation request and her rejection of the last chance agreement’s waivers. View "Fuller v. McDonough" on Justia Law
Meadows v. NCR Corp.
NCR's customer engineers (CEs) service NCR devices in the field, working remotely. NCR instructed CEs to work only during their official shifts, prohibited off-the-clock work, and required CEs to record their time in an electronic system. If a CE worked overtime—contrary to NCR guidance—the CE would be paid for the time only if she recorded it. Meadows worked as a CE from 2008-2019; when he recorded unauthorized overtime, he was paid for that time. When he did not record that time, he was not compensated.Meadows sued NCR under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201, seeking compensation for his unrecorded overtime work. The district court held that Meadows’s off-the-clock activities were not part of his core responsibilities but were incidental. Under the FLSA, employers are required to compensate an employee’s performance of all principal activities but not incidental activities unless an exception applies, including if the employer elected to do so by contract or custom. The court stated that NCR could not escape liability by imposing a recording requirement on its custom of paying for incidental activities because NCR had constructive knowledge of those activities.The Seventh Circuit reversed. The FLSA does not mandate overtime pay for the performance of incidental activities—which an employer has chosen to remunerate by custom or practice—if the employee failed to comply with requirements for payment imposed by that custom or practice. View "Meadows v. NCR Corp." on Justia Law
Gnutek v. Illinois Gaming Board
Gnutek alleged that he was unlawfully terminated from his position as a Gaming Senior Special Agent with the Illinois Gaming Board in violation of Title VII, the First Amendment under 42 U.S.C. 1983, and the Illinois Ethics Act. His termination followed his arrest after Gnutek assaulted another driver. The district court dismissed the Illinois Ethics Act claims against the Board and individual defendants in their official capacities. Gnutek voluntarily dismissed the claims against two individual defendants. The district court then granted summary judgment in favor of the Board and three other individuals on the remaining claims.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Other than the fact that he has previously engaged in prior litigation against the defendants, Gnutek presented no evidence from which a trier of fact could infer that his termination was retaliatory nor did he establish that he was treated less favorably than similarly situated individuals. View "Gnutek v. Illinois Gaming Board" on Justia Law
Hirlston v. Costco Wholesale Corp.
Hirlston worked for several years as a Costco store's Optical Manager. Hirlston has life-long disabilities that make it hard for her to bend, walk, and stand. In 2015, Costco planned to remodel the optical department in a way that would make it more difficult for Hirlston to continue working in that job. The parties discussed accommodations, including work restrictions designated by Hirlston’s doctor. Costco determined that no accommodations would allow Hirlston to continue as Optical Manager and that she had not been carrying out the essential functions of her job before the remodeling. She had been acting contrary to her doctor’s restrictions and delegating tasks that Costco believed were essential for her to carry out. Costco placed Hirlston on involuntary leave and later assigned her to a different job paying less money.Hirlston sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), alleging disability discrimination and retaliation, 42 U.S.C. 12111(8), 12112, 12203(a). A jury concluded that she was not qualified to do the Optical Manager job. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The use of a special verdict form was not erroneous. Hirlston forfeited her challenge to jury instructions by failing to make a timely objection. The key instruction included an error but the error did not harm Hirlston’s case so as to require a new trial. The judge did not abuse her discretion by allowing the parties to introduce photographs of the workplace that had not been disclosed in discovery. View "Hirlston v. Costco Wholesale Corp." on Justia Law
Turner v. McDonald’s USA LLC
Until recently, under every McDonald’s franchise agreement, the franchise operator promised not to hire any person employed by a different franchise, or by McDonald’s itself, until six months after the last date that person had worked for McDonald’s or another franchise. A related clause barred one franchisee from soliciting another’s employee (anti-poach clauses). In a suit under the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 1, the plaintiffs worked for McDonald’s franchises while these clauses were in force and were unable to take higher-paying offers at other franchises. They contend that the anti-poach clause violated the antitrust laws.The district court dismissed, rejecting plaintiffs’ “per se” theory, stating that the anti-poach clause is not a “naked” restraint on trade but is ancillary to each franchise agreement—and, as every new restaurant expands output, the restraint was justified. The court deemed the complaint deficient under the Rule of Reason because it does not allege that McDonald’s and its franchises collectively have power in the market for restaurant workers’ labor.The Seventh Circuit. The complaint alleges a horizontal restraint; market power is not essential to antitrust claims involving naked agreements among competitors. The court noted that there are many potentially complex questions, which cannot be answered by looking at the language of the complaint but require careful economic analysis. View "Turner v. McDonald's USA LLC" on Justia Law
Hambrick v. Kijakazi
Hambrick, a black woman born in 1970, has worked at the Social Security Administration (SSA) for nearly 35 years. In 2016, her supervisor reassigned her. Hambrick remained a manager at the same pay scale and grade. Since her transfer, Hambrick alleges she has endured constant negative treatment from her supervisors and peers, amounting to harassment based on her age and race. Hambrick unsuccessfully applied for other roles. For one position, her supervisor hired a younger, white man, explaining that her collaborative skills needed work and her direct supervisor recommended her “with reservations.” Hambrick also complained of her heavy workload, and the quick rise of younger, non-black SSA employees and that her supervisors did not celebrate her lowering the backlog of cases. Hambrick filed Equal Employment Opportunity complaints that were resolved in the SSA’s favor.The district court determined that Hambrick had administratively exhausted the SSA’s failure to promote Hambrick; Hambrick’s lowered performance evaluation; and Hambrick’s non-selection to positions in 2021 as retaliation for her EEO complaints, then concluded that she failed to show unlawful discrimination. The court concluded that the “totality of undisputed facts … consisted of unremarkable workplace disagreements.” Hambrick’s “dissatisfaction with her supervisors, heavy workload, and lack of recognition,” did not create a hostile work environment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. None of the incidents that Hambrick challenged were severe or pervasive, nor does she show how they relate to the protected characteristics of her race or age. View "Hambrick v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law
Singmuongthong v. Bowen
Singmuongthong describes himself as a tan-colored, Asian man of Laotian national origin. He worked as a correctional officer at Sheridan from 1998-2013, when he became a lieutenant at Sheridan. In 2016, he was promoted and became assistant warden of operations at a new facility, Kewanee. Singmuongthong received a five percent increase in his salary. Kewanee’s warden, Williams, was investigated in 2018 for inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature with subordinate staff and was terminated. That investigation also concluded that Singmuongthong had difficulty making good administrative decisions, had failed to report inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature, and spent too much time at bars with subordinate staff. Singmuongthong informed the regional deputy chief, Funk, that he was interested in the warden position. He was not chosen for the position because of his relationship with Williams and concerns about his judgment. Following a subsequent investigation of a separate allegation of sexual harassment, Singmuongthong was terminated from employment.Singmuongthong alleged discrimination based on his race, color, and national origin, and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. Singmuongthong appealed only his pay disparity and failure to promote claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting a claim of pretext. View "Singmuongthong v. Bowen" on Justia Law
Kinney v. St. Mary’s Health, Inc.
Kinney worked as the hospital's director of imaging services. Her employer approved her 2018 request for intermittent medical leave due to anxiety. Kinney began working remotely in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When safety protocols were developed, her coworkers returned to work in person. Kinney kept working remotely without asking permission. She asserts that she could not wear a mask in compliance with the hospital’s COVID-19 protocol because face coverings exacerbate her anxiety. When her absences led to complaints, hospital management told Kinney that she had to work on-site several days each week. Management denied her request for accommodations.Kinney resigned and sued the under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, and Title VI, 42 U.S.C. 2000e (alleging a hostile workplace, discrimination based on her sex in failing to select her for promotions, and constructive discharge), and the Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. 2601 (retaliation). The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the hospital. No reasonable juror could find that Kinney could perform certain essential functions of her job without being present in the department that she oversaw; Kinney was not a qualified individual for the job under the ADA and her accommodation request was not reasonable. Her resignation was not a constructive discharge. Kinney did not raise a genuine factual issue as to whether she was similarly or better qualified for the position than the chosen male candidate. View "Kinney v. St. Mary's Health, Inc." on Justia Law