Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Oak Park hired Barwin as its village manager in 2006, as an at-will employee. He had previously worked as a city manager in Michigan. Barwin resigned under threat of termination 30 months before his pension rights vested. Barwin alleged that Oak Park breached its contractual duty of good faith and fair dealing by forcing him out of his job to prevent his pension from vesting and by refusing to honor its practice of allowing senior employees to purchase out-of-state pension credits to meet the vesting threshold.The district court rejected Barwin’s claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part. Barwin has no plausible contract claim for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing based on an expectation that the Village would not fire him or force him to resign to prevent him from reaching retirement eligibility. As an at-will employee, Barwin had no enforceable expectation that he would remain employed long enough to meet the vesting threshold. The district court erred in entering summary judgment on the claim that Oak Park breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing by not allowing Barwin to purchase out-of-state pension credits as it had historically done with other employees. His employment contract entitled him to the same benefits that other senior employees enjoyed “by practice.” A finder of fact could reasonably conclude that the Village had a practice of allowing such employees to purchase out-of-state pension credits. View "Barwin v. Village of Oak Park" on Justia Law

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Milhem applied for Social Security disability insurance benefits, alleging that several conditions limited her ability to work. Milihem, age 38, had completed three years of college and had previously worked as a canvasser, receptionist, portrait photographer, and graphic designer. A vocational expert concluded that the evidence supported limiting Milhem’s work to that which can be learned in 30 days or less, that Milhem could stand or walk for at least two hours in an eight-hour workday, and that Milhem “could make judgments commensurate with functions of simple, repetitive tasks”; such an individual could not perform Milhem’s past work, but could work as a router, price marker, and cafeteria attendant, of which there were approximately 53,000, 307,000, and 63,000 jobs in the national economy, respectively. Changing the exertion level to sedentary, the expert testified, would include the work of an addresser, table worker, or document preparer, of which there were approximately 19,000, 23,000, and 47,000 jobs in the national economy, respectively.Based on this testimony, and “considering [Milhem’s] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity,” the ALJ found that there were a significant number of jobs that Milhem could perform, so Milhem was not under a qualifying disability. The district court upheld that determination. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A reasonable person would accept 89,000 jobs in the national economy, a figure supported by substantial evidence, as a significant number. Other circuits have accepted similar numbers as significant. View "Milhem v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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Springfield’s publicly-owned utility hires water meter readers, subject to a 12-month probationary period. Mayor Langfelder hired Dunlevy and Murray as meter readers. They received the same pay and reported to the same supervisor. There were five levels of supervision between them and the mayor. Near the end of their probationary periods, both men were investigated. Dunlevy had inaccurately recorded meters at seven different homes, which is a fireable offense even for protected employees. Murray had been starting work late, leaving early, and walking off the job for up to three hours. Murray also failed to disclose a seven-year-old burglary conviction on his application. All of the supervisors unanimously recommended that both men be fired. Langfelder fired Dunlevy, who is white, but not Murray, who is Black.Dunlevy brought an equal protection claim (42 U.S.C. 1983) against Langfelder and an Illinois Human Rights Act claim and a Title VII claim (42 U.S.C. 2000e) against the city for disparate punishment based on race. The Seventh Circuit vacated the dismissal of the case. The district court drew too narrow a comparison: The two men are sufficiently similarly situated for Dunlevy to bring his claims to trial. Dunlevy’s meter curbing undermined the core function of the utility; Murray’s tardiness and absences undermined a basic tenet of any employment: be present. View "Dunlevy v. Langfelder" on Justia Law

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Tate has worked for the Sheriff of Cook County since 2007. In his third year as a correctional officer, Tate suffered a back injury. He returned to work under medical restrictions that required him to “avoid situations in which there is a significant chance of violence or conflict.” After Tate was promoted to sergeant, the Sheriff’s Office accommodated this medical restriction by allowing him to work in the Classification Unit, where the possibility of violence or physical conflict was relatively remote. When Tate sought a promotion to lieutenant, he was told that the Sheriff could not accommodate him in that position. Correctional lieutenants had to be “able to manage and [defuse] regular, violent situations involving inmates.” Tate’s doctor declined to modify his medical restrictions,Tate sued, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, and the Illinois Human Rights Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Sheriff’s Office. In concluding that Tate could not perform the “essential functions,” the court considered the employer’s judgment, written job descriptions, the amount of time spent performing the function, the consequences of not requiring the incumbent to perform the function, the collective bargaining agreement, and the work experience of incumbents in the job. View "Tate v. Dart" on Justia Law

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The School District includes four high schools. Groves, who is white, started at the District in 1991 as a teacher. In 2007 he became the Adams High School athletic director. In 2017 Groves applied to serve as Corporation Director of Athletics, a new, District-wide position. Superintendent Spells interviewed four applicants and recommended Gavin, who is Black, explaining that Gavin inspired confidence in his ability to repair the District’s relationship with the Indiana High School Athletic Association; Groves interviewed poorly and seemed to boast of firing 24 coaches during his tenure. Noncompliance with Association regulations occurred under Groves’s watch at Adams.Groves sued under Title VII, noting that Spells is also Black. The District later eliminated the Corporation Director of Athletics position and created a hybrid Dean of Students/Athletics position at each of the four high schools. Groves, Gavin, and seven other candidates applied for the four new positions. The Riley High School position went to Gavin. Groves added a claim of retaliation based on the elimination of his position. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary rejection of his claims. Groves was not substantially more qualified than Gavin. Both met the criteria that the District required for the position. The court rejected a claim of pretext. Although Gavin’s criminal background came to light after the challenged hiring decisions, the District interpreted its background check policy as applying only to external hires, not existing employees moving to new positions. View "Groves v. South Bend Community School Corp." on Justia Law

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Two drivers sued Bailey Trucking for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 216(b), and Indiana wage laws by failing to pay drivers for time spent working before and after hauling jobs. The employees’ first attempt at class/collective certification was unsuccessful; the court concluded that class counsel Weldy’s disciplinary record precluded him from representing the class. On reconsideration, the court conditionally certified an FLSA collective and certified a Rule 23 class. Almost four years later, the court decertified the class and collective; finding the number of plaintiffs too small for collective resolution to provide any efficiency above simple joinder. The employees amended their complaint to add nine plaintiffs. The court granted the employees partial summary judgment. The parties negotiated settlements.The court approved a settlement that reflected a full recovery of claimed damages for the two-year period preceding the suit, plus a partial recovery for the third year of damages that would have been available if the employees proved a willful FLSA violation, concluding that an immediate partial recovery outweighed the time and risk of trial. The employees sought an award of more than $200,000 in attorney’s fees under FLSA. The court awarded $70,000. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion when it lowered the fee award after concluding that Weldy overbilled his hours and the employees obtained only partial success. View "Koch v. Jerry W. Bailey Trucking, Inc." on Justia Law

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Runkel worked as the assistant purchasing agent for Springfield, Illinois. The purchasing agent announced that he planned to leave the position. Runkel, who is white, unsuccessfully sought a promotion to that job. The city promoted a Black candidate, Wilkin, who had worked under Runkel’s supervision. Runkel was offered a $5,000 per year raise but nonetheless stated that she believed the hiring was discriminatory; she caused a disturbance in the office. Runkel filed a race discrimination charge with the EEOC. Runkel was disciplined and the promised raise was revoked. She retired and filed suit under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1), 2000e-3(a), and the Equal Protection Clause. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit reversed. The city told incompatible stories about how and why Wilkin was chosen for promotion and Runkel was not. One version relied explicitly upon race as a factor. Regarding Runkel’s retaliation claim, the explanation for disciplining Runkel and taking away the promised raise also involves genuine questions of material fact. Her disruptive response to the denial of the promotion could warrant discipline, but giving Runkel the benefit of conflicts in the evidence and reasonable inferences from it, a reasonable jury could find that Springfield’s stated nondiscriminatory justifications for the promotion decision are pretextual and that it retaliated against Runkel for claiming discrimination. View "Runkel v. City of Springfield" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Scaife, an African-American woman, began working as a specialist classifying VA jobs. Scaife received “Outstanding” or “Excellent” ratings on her annual performance reviews. After a few years, Earp, a white male, became Scaife’s immediate supervisor. Scaife claims he mistreated women employees. In 2016, Earp told Scaife and another black female that he wanted them to classify positions higher if told to do so. When Scaife inquired whether doing so would violate regulations, Earp became “aggressive.” Scaife inquired about the process for addressing a hostile work environment and sent text messages to Earp’s supervisor. After an incident during which another white male referred to Scaife as a "N-----," Scaife filed EEO charges. Scaife received a formal counseling email. Scaife later accepted an offer for the same classifier position at a California VA center, which allowed her to work remotely.Scaife sued under Title VII, claiming a race and gender-based hostile work environment, retaliation, and constructive discharge. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the VA. Given the totality of circumstances, Scaife failed to show that the one-time use of the N-word outside of her presence established a hostile work environment based on race. Scaife failed to show harassment based on gender, that the alleged conduct was severe or pervasive, or that she endured a hostile work environment based on both race and gender. Absent evidence that she suffered an adverse action, Scaife cannot establish retaliation. View "Scaife v. United States Department of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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Downing, an African-American woman, had significant sales experience when she was hired in 2002 by Abbott. In 2009 she became one of four Regional Sales Managers. Abbott came under financial pressure in 2012 and reduced its workforce. Downing’s new director, Farmakis, included detailed criticisms in Downing’s 2013 review. Downing and another employee reported to Abbott’s Employee Relations Department that Farmakis was discriminating based on race and gender. Farmakis was coached to improve his management style. Throughout 2013, Abbott’s business faltered, resulting in layoffs and realignment of its sales teams. Abbott placed Downing on a performance improvement plan, the last step before termination. Downing then retained counsel and gave notice that she intended to file discrimination claims. Abbott cut Downing’s stock award in 2014. Downing filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC. Abbott had another reduction in force in 2015. All four Regional Sales Manager lost their jobs when that position was eliminated. Farmakis was also terminated. Abbott invited Downing to apply for the position of Regional Commercial Director. Abbott did not select Downing or Farmakis and ultimately hired an African-American man.Downing filed suit under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of Abbot, rejecting challenges to evidentiary rulings, the exclusion of Downing’s expert witness, the jury instructions, the testimony of her former manager, and the sufficiency of the evidence for her disparate-impact claim. View "Downing v. Abbott Laboratories" on Justia Law

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Vanegas, a Mexican citizen, was hired by Signet, a nationwide construction company, to work in the U.S. on an H-2A guestworker visa, which authorizes foreign workers to perform “agricultural” work in the U.S. on a temporary basis, if the proposed employer can show that there are too few domestic workers willing and able to do the work and that the use of guest-workers will not undercut local workers’ wages and working conditions, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a); 1188(a)(1). Vanegas was assigned to build livestock structures on farms in Wisconsin and Indiana. He routinely worked more than 40 hours a week, but Signet did not pay him extra for his overtime hours.He filed a complaint under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and moved for conditional certification of a collective action on behalf of all Signet H-2A workers who were exclusively assigned to construction work. The district court dismissed, finding that Vanegas was an agricultural worker, exempt from FLSA’s overtime protections, 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(1). The Seventh Circuit reversed. Work falls within the FLSA agricultural exemption only if it is both “performed by a farmer or on a farm” and if it “does not amount to an independent business.” Regulations establish a fact-intensive, totality-of-the-circumstances test to determine whether work performed on a farm is agricultural or is an independent business. Signet did not prove that the agricultural exemption applies. View "Vanegas v. Signet Builders, Inc." on Justia Law