Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Hackett, a South Bend patrolman and an Air National Guard reservist, applied to become a bomb squad technician. Membership on the squad did not constitute a promotion or immediately affect an officer’s pay but could lead to additional work and specialty pay. Hackett was not among the three officers selected. He testified that the director of human resources said that he was the most qualified candidate but was not selected because of his pending seven-month deployment. Hackett filed complaints with the EEOC and the U.S. Department of Labor. The city then offered Hackett a bomb squad position. Other squad members were informed that one would have to give up his position for Hackett. Hackett claims he was never allowed to complete the training. Around the same time, Hackett applied for a promotion. Hackett was deployed when applicants were scheduled to interview. The department moved Hackett’s interview but Hackett was unable to timely submit his work sample. Hackett sued under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. 4301. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the city, rejecting a new hostile work environment claim as forfeited. Hackett failed to challenge findings that his exclusion from the bomb squad did not constitute a materially adverse employment action and that no reasonable jury could find that the promotion process was tainted by any impermissible motive. View "Hackett v. City of South Bend" on Justia Law

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Vega, a Hispanic woman, began her employment with the Chicago Park District in 1987 and was promoted to the position of park supervisor in 2004. In 2012, an anonymous caller accused Vega of clocking in hours that she had not worked. The District had investigators watch Vega for 56 days. The investigators interrupted Vega at work; Vega’s union representative found them to be “pretty dead set” on finding that Vega had violated the Code of Conduct. Suffering from “significant anxiety,” Vega took medical leave on the advice of her physician. Ultimately, Vega was fired for timesheet falsifications and for being untruthful during her Corrective Action Meetings. The District did not offer Vega’s union a pre-disciplinary agreement. A Personnel Board officer upheld Vega’s termination. Vega sued under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging discrimination on the basis of national origin. A jury awarded her $750,000 in compensatory damages but rejected Vega’s retaliation claims. The district court overturned the verdict on the section 1983 claim and remitted the compensatory award to $300,000, Title VII’s maximum; awarded Vega back pay and benefits, plus a tax-component award of $55,924.90; and ordered the District to reinstate Vega. The Seventh Circuit affirmed except for the grant of the tax-component award, which it vacated and remanded for the district court to explain its calculation. View "Vega v. Chicago Park District" on Justia Law

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DISH sold its satellite TV service through its own staff plus third parties: “telemarketing vendors”; “full-service retailers” that sold, installed, and serviced satellite gear; and “order-entry retailers” that used phones to sell nationwide. The United States and four states sued DISH and four order-entry retailers. The district court found that the defendants violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule, 16 C.F.R. 310, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227, and related state laws. A $280 million penalty was imposed. DISH appealed concerning the extent to which DISH had to coordinate do-not-call lists with and among these retailers or was otherwise responsible for their acts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, except for a holding that DISH is liable for “substantially assisting” Star Satellite and its measure of damages; those violations were essentially counted twice. Regardless of the definition of “cause” under the rule, which makes it unlawful for a seller to “cause a telemarketer to engage in” violations, the retailers were DISH's agents, regardless of any contractual disclaimer. They acted directly for DISH, entering orders into DISH’s system; they did not have their own inventory and were not resellers of any kind. The retailers were authorized to sell DISH’s service by phone nationwide; the district court found that DISH knew about these retailers’ wrongful acts, so DISH is liable as the principal. View "United States v. DISH Network L.L.C." on Justia Law

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Castetter underwent cancer treatment during his employment. After returning from medical leave, he became a District Manager, reporting to Dollar General's regional managers Chupp and Hubbs. Chupp identified deficiencies in Castetter’s stores and implemented a performance plan. Castetter wrote to Hubbs describing Chupp’s improper characterization of his performance and Chupp’s unprofessional conduct. The letter did not refer to cancer, medical leave, or discrimination. Hubbs claims he did not receive the letter. Castetter testified that Hubbs mocked him. Human resources issued a Final Counseling detailing Castetter’s unprofessional conduct and violations of Dollar General’s policies, including employees who had not completed the hiring process and were working without pay, insufficiently trained employees, understaffed stores, high turnover, and a cash discrepancy. Dollar General placed Castetter on another improvement plan. Human resources subsequently discovered numerous violations, including a non-employee attending an employee meeting and failure to process employment documents. Another unpaid non-employee whose paperwork was incomplete was given security access without passing background and drug tests and was stealing from the store. Dollar General terminated Castetter. The district court rejected his disability discrimination on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Castetter failed to show discriminatory intent by establishing a causal nexus between unprofessional remarks and the decision to terminate him. Castetter’s termination was based on his failure to adhere to his responsibilities. View "Castetter v. Dolgencorp, LLC" on Justia Law

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Joll, an accomplished runner and an experienced running coach, had been a middle school teacher for more than 25 years. She applied for a job as the assistant coach of a high school girls’ cross-country team. The school hired a younger man for the job but invited Joll to apply for the same position on the boys’ team. She did so but the school hired a younger man again. She filed suit for sex and age discrimination. After discovery, the district court granted summary judgment for the school district, concluding that Joll had not offered enough evidence of either form of discrimination to present to a jury. The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that the district court apparently asked “whether any particular piece of evidence proves the case by itself,” rather than aggregating the evidence “to find an overall likelihood of discrimination.” Joll offered evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to find that the school district used hiring procedures tilted in favor of the male applicants, applied sex-role stereotypes during the interview process, and manipulated the criteria for hiring in ways that were inconsistent except that they always favored the male applicants. View "Joll v. Valparaiso Community Schools" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs, current and former Cook County sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers, were disciplined for violating various departmental policies and rules. Seven of the eight plaintiffs were fired; the remaining officer was suspended. They sought to represent a class of officers who were disciplined in 2013-2016. The complaint under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleged deprivations of due process based on a defect in the composition of the Merit Board: at the time of the challenged disciplinary decisions, certain Board members held their appointments in violation of Illinois law. They also alleged that Sheriff Dart and his General Counsel assumed control of the Board through political means and pressured its members to make decisions contrary to Illinois law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. A violation of state law is not a federal due-process violation, so the defect in the Board’s membership is not a basis for a federal constitutional claim. The allegations of biased decision-making suggest only that the plaintiffs may have suffered a random and unauthorized deprivation of their property interest in public employment. An injury of that type is not a violation of due process if the state offers adequate postdeprivation remedies. Illinois provides constitutionally adequate postdeprivation remedies for aggrieved public employees. View "Vargas v. Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board" on Justia Law

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Mascow, a teacher who had tenure under Illinois law, was laid off in 2017. Because her latest rating was “unsatisfactory,” she was first in line for layoff when the school lost one position and lacked any recall rights if the school district began hiring again—as it did. She sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Due Process Clause entitled her to a hearing before the layoff and that the “unsatisfactory” rating violated the First Amendment. Mascow became co-president of the Union in 2010. Her First Amendment claim rests on her actions in 2014 and 2015 in notifying administrators that planned activities would violate the collective bargaining agreement. The school canceled one event and revised the other. The district court rejected both claims, reasoning that a reasonable jury could not find that the 2014 and 2015 meetings caused a reduction in Mascow’s ratings, noting that Mascow’s co-president, who attended the 2015 meeting, retained an “excellent” rating. The Seventh Circuit affirmed with respect to the First Amendment but vacated with respect to the due process claim. Neither the district judge nor the parties’ briefs addressed how teachers can obtain review of their ratings and whether those opportunities satisfy the constitutional need for “some kind of hearing.” View "Mascow v. Board of Education of Franklin Park School District No. 84" on Justia Law

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WPS employed Stelter as an assistant in 2002 and promoted her to sales representative in 2007. In 2010, Harings, an agency manager, expressed concern in Stelter’s performance review regarding personal appointments made during work hours. In 2013, Harings again noted appointments during work hours and Stelter’s need for better familiarity with large group insurance products. In February 2014, Stelter injured her back at work. WPS approved her request for time off. On April 17, Stelter’s doctor cleared her to return with no restrictions. In June, Harings conducted Stelter’s performance review, giving an overall rating of improvement required. To get Stelter better acquainted with selling large group insurance, Harings had Stelter visit another WPS office, about a two-hour drive from the location where Stelter worked. In September, Harings met with Stelter weekly. Harings’s notes expressed her frustration that Stelter failed to request additional training and continued leaving work for appointments without giving adequate notice. Harings recommended termination. In December, WPS terminated Stelter. Stelter sued, claiming discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. She alleged she was disabled with back pain that was aggravated by a work injury, The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of WPS. Stelter was terminated for a pattern of job absenteeism and deficiency. View "Stelter v. Wisconsin Physicians Service Insurance Corp." on Justia Law

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Phillips injured his ribs while playing with his grandchildren. For two weeks, he called his employer, United, to report he would miss work. Phillips stopped calling in and did not appear for work on three consecutive days so United fired him. He sued, alleging United failed to properly notify him of his rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2617, and that he was fired in retaliation for attempting to exercise his right to seek FMLA leave. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of the retaliation claim but remanded Phillips’s interference claim. A reasonable jury could find that Phillips’s injury constituted a serious health condition. If United failed to train its personnel to recognize FMLA-qualifying leave, that may factor into deciding whether Phillips provided sufficient notice of his need for leave. A jury must decide the factual question of whether the nature and amount of information he conveyed put United on notice and required United to notify Phillips whether the leave would be designated as FMLA leave. His wife attested had Phillips known United offered FMLA leave, he would have taken it. Other than that, the record does not reflect whether Phillips would have acted differently had United provided the requisite information Even if Phillips engaged in a protected activity and United took adverse employment action against him, Phillips failed to establish any causal connection between his alleged attempt to seek FMLA relief and his discharge. View "Lutes v. United Trailers, Inc." on Justia Law

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Robertson brought claims against DHS and two DHS employees, Mattke and Evan, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, alleging retaliation for complaining of discrimination in the workplace. The district court dismissed the claims against Evans and Mattke because Title VII authorizes suit only against an employer as an entity, not against individuals, then granted summary judgment, holding that Robertson’s retaliation claim against DHS for failing to promote her to a director position failed because she could not prove a “but-for” causal link between her protected activity (reporting discrimination) and DHS’s decision not to promote her. With respect to her second retaliation claim, alleging that DHS continued the retaliation against her through Evans, the court held that Robertson failed to establish that she suffered an adverse action. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. With respect to her failure-to-promote claim, DHS provided a nonretaliatory reason for choosing another candidate. Robertson failed to submit evidence that DHS’s reason was pretextual. Robertson failed to “identify such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, or contradictions” in DHS’s stated reason for hiring Evans over her “that a reasonable person could find [it] unworthy of credence.” With respect to her claim that DHS continued the retaliation through Evans, Robertson has failed to show that she suffered a materially adverse action. View "Robertson v. Wisconsin Department of Health Services" on Justia Law