Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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Yochim worked in HUD's legal department for 26 years. Throughout her tenure, she took advantage of HUD’s flexible policy permitting employees to work from home several days per week. After undergoing hand surgery, Yochim requested time off and permission to work from home. HUD agreed and allowed her time to recover and to telework several days a week for many months as she received physical therapy. HUD later restructured its law department, with the effect of requiring employees to spend more time in the office. The restructuring, combined with Yochim’s performance deficiencies, led HUD to revoke her telework privileges and offer alternative accommodations. In the meantime, Yochim lodged two complaints with the EEOC, claiming that HUD discriminated and retaliated against her by failing to promote her and, separately, to accommodate her need for ongoing rehabilitation. Yochim retired from HUD once she became eligible to do so, then filed suit, citing the Rehabilitation Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of HUD. Although Yochim had established that she was a qualified person with a disability, no reasonable jury could find that the Department had failed to offer reasonable accommodations. Yochim did not establish that HUD retaliated against her or subjected her to a hostile work environment. View "Yochim v. Carson" on Justia Law

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O’Donnell learned that her employer paid her less than her male peers and raised the issue with company officials, stating that she was going to file an EEOC complaint. O’Donnell shared a desk with her supervisor. She discovered performance evaluations of her male colleagues, which, she believed, confirmed that men were paid more for substantially the same work. She made copies and prepared to submit them to the EEOC. After learning that O’Donnell took other employees’ performance reports without authorization, the company suspended and ultimately terminated her. O’Donnell filed suit, alleging sex-based wage discrimination under the Equal Pay Act (29 U.S.C. 206(d)); sex discrimination under Title VII (42 U.S.C. 2000); Retaliation under Title VII; and Retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. 215(a)(3)). The district court administered instructions based on the Seventh Circuit's Model Instructions. The jury returned a verdict for the employer. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting O’Donnell’s claims that the jury instructions and the verdict forms incorrectly instructed the jury on the law and were confusing to the jury; that the court improperly allowed the company to assert an affirmative defense based on her previous salary amounts without raising that defense in its answer; and that the court erred by excluding expert testimony on damages from a forensic economist. View "O'Donnell v. Caine Weiner Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Hudson, a 39-year employee of Consolidated Communications, was discharged due to strike-related misconduct. Hudson had blocked a company vehicle while moving in traffic during the strike. Following an appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court, the National Labor Relations Board issued a supplemental decision concluding that Consolidated did not violate the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(3). The Board found that Hudson’s actions were calculated to intimidate the non-striking employees and were inherently dangerous. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting the union’s argument that Hudson’s conduct was not intended to intimidate or endanger the Consolidated employees and that she only intended to follow them to set up an ambulatory picket. That suggestion is belied by the fact that she was following them from the front and purposely impeded their progress. These acts illustrate a thorough plan to do more than follow the work vehicle and are not “animal exuberance” which the Board can and does excuse. View "Local 702, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The Parish hired Sterlinski in 1992 as Director of Music. In 2014 the Parish’s priest demoted Sterlinski to the job of organist and in 2015 fired him outright. Sterlinski contends that the Parish held his Polish heritage against him. Until his demotion he could have been fired for any reason, because as Director of Music he held substantial authority over the conduct of religious services and would have been treated as a “minister.” Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not apply to ministers. Sterlinski claims that as an organist, he was just “robotically playing the music that he was given” and could not be treated as a minister. The district court disagreed and granted summary judgment to the Bishop. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Organ playing serves a religious function in the life of the Parish. The court stated: “If the Roman Catholic Church believes that organ music is vital to its religious services, and that to advance its faith it needs the ability to select organists, who are we judges to disagree?” View "Sterlinski v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Lavite, a combat veteran, works in the Administration Building of Madison County, Illinois, as superintendent for the County’s Veterans Assistance Commission. In 2015, Madison County officials banned Lavite from the Administration Building indefinitely after learning that Lavite had experienced a PTSD episode during which he threatened a police officer and then kicked out the windows of a squad car. The ban lasted for nearly 20 months. Lavite kept his job but had to work remotely. Lavite had previously resisted efforts to use funds from the Commission’s budget for other county needs. Before the ban was lifted, Lavite filed suit. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Lavite’s right to assemble on government property was not violated because the ban on his presence in the building was viewpoint-neutral and reasonably motivated by legitimate safety concerns. None of the evidence supports a reasonable inference of causation between the ban imposed on Lavite in 2015 and his 2013 objections to the proposals to divert some of his Commission’s budget to other purposes. Lavite, having no alleged liberty or property interest, did not establish any due process violation. View "Lavite v. Dunstan" on Justia Law

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Until 2013, Wozniak had tenure on the University of Illinois faculty. He waged an extended campaign against students who did not give him a teaching award. As he had done before when the University enforced school policies, Wozniak filed suit. Disagreeing with the University’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the Board of Trustees terminated Wozniak. After the Committee had issued its report, Wozniak posted the entire document and evidence on his website, revealing the identities of the students involved. Wozniak also filed a state court civil suit seeking damages from the students, planning to get a judicial order requiring the students to sit for depositions. Wozniak sued the University alleging violations of the First Amendment. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wozniak was fired for intentionally causing hurt to students, and refusing to follow the Dean’s instructions, not simply for publicizing the effects of his actions. Wozniak acted in his capacity as a teacher and used his position to inflict the injuries that precipitated his discharge. The First Amendment does not govern how employers respond to speech that is part of a public employee’s job. How faculty members relate to students is part of their jobs. Speech that concerns personal job-related matters is outside the scope of the First Amendment, even if that speech is not among the job’s duties. View "Wozniak v. Adesida" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Campos began working as a Cook County Sheriff’s Office correctional officer. In 2011, he was arrested for driving under the influence, striking a vehicle, and leaving the scene of an accident. Campos self-reported. The sheriff suspended him without pay and referred him for termination. The Merit Board has exclusive authority to terminate Sheriff’s Office employees. While the Board proceedings were ongoing, a state court granted Campos’s motion to suppress and quashed his arrest. The Board voted to terminate Campos. The circuit court vacated that decision as too vague to allow for judicial review and remanded. In 2017, the Board again voted to terminate Campos. The circuit court again remanded based on a defect in the Board’s composition. It had been almost seven years since the sheriff suspended Campos without pay. Rather than wait for a third Board decision, Campos filed suit in federal court, arguing that the protracted proceedings have violated his substantive due process rights. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his claims. Campos has not met the high standard for stating a substantive due process claim. Employment rights are not fundamental rights and Campos identified no independent constitutional violation. The eight-year process is not so arbitrary or outrageous as to violate substantive due process. View "Campos v. Cook Countyx" on Justia Law

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Cash Depot underpaid employees for their overtime work. Fast filed suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 203 (FLSA), on behalf of himself and other Depot employees. Depot hired an accountant to investigate. The accountant tallied Depot’s cumulative underpayments at less than $22,000. Depot issued checks to all underpaid current and former employees covered by the suit and issued checks to Fast for his underpaid wages, for liquidated damages under the FLSA, and for Fast’s disclosed attorney fees to that point. Fast and his attorney never cashed their checks. The district court denied a motion to dismiss because Fast contested whether Depot correctly calculated the amount it owed but granted partial summary judgment for Depot, “to the extent that [it] correctly calculated” what it owed Fast. Eventually, Fast conceded that Depot correctly paid the missing wages and urged that only a dispute over additional attorney fees remained. After Fast’s demand for additional attorney fees went unanswered, he filed a motion for attorney fees. The court determined that because Fast was not a prevailing party for the purposes of the FLSA, he was not entitled to attorney fees, and granted Depot summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Fast never received a favorable judgment. View "Fast v. Cash Depot, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Hunt worked the overnight shift at a Wal-Mart store. Watson was her supervisor. After Watson made several unprofessional remarks toward Hunt over a four-month period, Watson wrote a disciplinary report on Hunt, who then filed a complaint with human resources. Watson had previously been twice accused of sexual harassment and received written “coaching.” A manager concluded Hunt’s claims could not be substantiated without corroborating witnesses but required Watson to retake the ethics training course. Hunt reported no incidents of harassment following the discipline. Wal-Mart investigated the claims but was unable to substantiate them. Hunt filed suit, alleging Watson sexually harassed her by creating a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At summary judgment, the district court held that Wal-Mart established the Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense to liability because it reasonably prevented and corrected sexual harassment, and Hunt unreasonably delayed in reporting the harassment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The alleged conduct, while unacceptable, did not amount to constructive discharge. Wal-Mart acted as a reasonable employer. It promulgated a comprehensive sexual harassment policy, trained its employees, maintained an effective reporting system, expeditiously investigated Hunt’s complaint, communicated its zero-tolerance policy, and retrained Watson even though the investigation failed to substantiate the allegations against him. View "Hunt v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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Stepp sued his former employer, Covance, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. 2000e–3, by refusing to hire him permanently in retaliation for his earlier complaints about discrimination. Stepp received positive performance reviews in his first nine months. Two of Stepp’s temporary coworkers were made permanent around their nine-month anniversary. While a temporary worker, Stepp, an African-American male, complained that Casteel, his team leader, treated female and white employees better than male and African-American employees and confronted Casteel directly. A manager investigated Stepp’s complaints but found them baseless. Stepp filed formal charges with the EEOC Casteel complained to Ball, a supervisor, that Stepp often stared at him, shook his head, smirked, and said “uh oh.” Shortly thereafter, with Stepp still in temporary status, Covance froze new hires in his department. Stepp asked Ball if Covance did not give him permanent status before the freeze because Casteel had complained about him; she responded “yes.” Stepp’s one-year term as a temporary worker ended soon after. Grubb, a human resources partner, planned to give a 90-day extension to temporary workers whose terms ended near the December holidays but Covance advised him that a 90-day extension was too long, so he shortened the extensions. The Seventh Circuit vacated a judgment in favor of Covance. A reasonable jury could conclude that Covance refused to promote Stepp to permanent status because of his complaints. View "Stepp v. Covance Central Laboratory Services, Inc." on Justia Law