Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Cage v. Harper
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court entering summary judgment to Defendants and dismissing this complaint brought by Plaintiff, the former general counsel for Chicago State University, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its rulings.Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against several University defendants alleging that the University fired him in retaliation for reporting a potential conflict of interest in violation of the First Amendment and Illinois's State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and that Defendants violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by not paying him severance pay. The district court entered summary judgment for Defendants. The Seventh District affirmed, holding that Plaintiff's actions fell outside the Ethics Act and that Plaintiff's speech lacked protection under the First Amendment. View "Cage v. Harper" on Justia Law
Burke v. Boeing Co.
In this putative class action filed shortly after two fatal crashes of new Boeing 737 MAX airliners led to a worldwide grounding of those planes and a halt to production, resulting to a significant drop in the value of Boeing stock, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court granting Defendants' motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), holding that there was no error.At issue was The Boeing Company's employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) and whether Boeing plan fiduciaries' delegation to an independent outside fiduciary the selection and management of investment options for the ESOP protected the company and company insiders from liability for the plan's continued offering of Boeing stock as an independent option for employees before and during the time when the Boeing stock dropped. Plaintiffs argued that Boeing's continuous concealment of material facts relating to the 737 MAX jets caused the price of the stock to be artificially inflated and that Defendants should disclosed the safety issues to the public immediately. The district court dismissed the action. The Seventh District affirmed, holding that the delegation of investment decisions to an independent fiduciary meant that Boeing did not act in an ERISA fiduciary capacity in connection with the continued investments in Boeing stock. View "Burke v. Boeing Co." on Justia Law
Huff v. Buttigieg
The Seventh Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and dismissing Plaintiff's claims that the FAA violated Title VII by retaliating against her for filing a formal complaint of religious discrimination, holding that a reasonable juror could conclude that retaliatory animus influenced Defendant's decision-making and proximately caused Plaintiff's termination.Plaintiff violated the FAA's alcohol and drug policy when she was arrested for an alcohol-related offense. By self-reporting her infraction, Plaintiff avoided disciplinary action if she completed a rehabilitation plan supervised by the FAA. Plaintiff objected on religious reasons to the plan's requirement that she attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and complained of religious discrimination, even after the FAA approved her participation in an alternate recovery program. The district court concluded that Plaintiff failed to establish a causal link between the formal complaint and her termination and granted summary judgment to the FAA. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that, under the causation standard for federal-sector retaliation claims, a reasonable juror could conclude that retaliatory animus influenced the FAA's decision-making and proximately caused Plaintiff's termination. View "Huff v. Buttigieg" on Justia Law
Swain v. Wormuth
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the United States Army and dismissing Gerald Swain's claims brought under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 701 et seq., alleging disability discrimination, holding that there was no error.As a civilian employee at an Army installation in Illinois, Swain asked for and received several accommodations for his physical limitations. Swain later brought this lawsuit against the Army, alleging failure to accommodate, disparate treatment, and retaliation under the Rehabilitation Act. The district court granted summary judgment for the Army. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the Army met its obligations under the Rehabilitation Act. View "Swain v. Wormuth" on Justia Law
McHale v. McDonough
McHale began employment at the VA Hospital in 2011 as a pharmacy technician. In 2014, side effects from McHale’s diabetes medication impacted her attendance at work. Weeks later, McHale’s supervisor, reduced McHale’s performance rating due to her use of sick leave and imposed an official sick leave restriction. McHale filed a union grievance. During the years that followed, McHale unsuccessfully applied for three other positions. McHale’s second-level supervisor stated that he did not want to select McHale for one position due to her frequent sick leave and the sick leave restriction. In interviews with the agency’s internal EEOC office, McHale never suggested that she had any disability. McHale filed a handwritten formal administrative complaint in 2015, alleging reprisal for the prior EEOC activity and unfair treatment in the form of the sick leave restrictions. The final agency decision concluded that it had not violated the law.McHale sued under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 791, alleging she was disabled due to complications with her diabetes and that: the agency had failed to accommodate this disability; had discriminated against her because of her disability; had subjected her to a hostile work environment; and had retaliated against her. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of her suit. McHale failed to exhaust her administrative remedies for the disability claims because she never complained of discrimination on the basis of disability to the agency. For the same reason, McHale cannot establish retaliation. View "McHale v. McDonough" on Justia Law
Parker v. Brooks Life Science, Inc.
Parker suffers from MS and sciatica and has received social security disability benefits for that diagnosis for several years. Brooks hired Parker in 2017. Parker worked as a receptionist 25 hours per week (usually mornings). Parker had different supervisors and received mixed feedback on her performance. Parker had to be “coached” concerning her use of paid time off (PTO). In 2018, Parker requested time off to get treatment for pain. Her supervisor, Williams, learned that during Williams’ absence, Parker had taken unapproved time off and made schedule changes. Williams approved the requests but warned that Parker was exceeding her PTO. Parker acknowledged that she needed to do a better job complying with the policy. Williams understood Parker’s statements to be admissions and emailed HR employees, recommending termination. After receiving their assent, Williams informed Parker that she was being terminated. Brooks apparently told the Indiana Department of Workforce Development that Parker had voluntarily quit to accept other employment. In response to her EEOC complaint, Brooks stated that its reason for terminating Parker was repeated failure to follow established PTO policies.In a suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Brooks. Parker did not produce evidence that would allow a reasonable juror to infer a link between her request for accommodation (time off for pain treatment) and her termination. View "Parker v. Brooks Life Science, Inc." on Justia Law
Lesiv v. Illinois Central Railroad Co.
Lesiv works for the Illinois Central Railroad. His brother, Lyubomir, had also worked there but left shortly after he filed a discrimination and retaliation charge against Illinois Central. Lyubomir later filed a discrimination suit in state court; Lesiv testified in a 2018 deposition. Almost three months later, his supervisors gave Lesiv a dangerous work assignment and suspended him after he refused to complete it. Lesiv asserts that Illinois Central violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by direct individual retaliation because he testified in his brother’s lawsuit, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-3(a), and by third-party retaliation, to harm his brother in retaliation for his brother’s charges.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Illinois Central on both claims. A retaliation claim requires proof that the employer took a “materially adverse” action against an employee because he engaged in protected activity or because another person close to him did so. A jury could find here that the dangerous work assignment and the suspension amounted to materially adverse actions but could not find retaliatory motives. Lesiv had no evidence that his supervisors took these actions against him because of his or his brother’s protected activities. None of the relevant supervisors knew that Lesiv had engaged in protected activity by testifying in his brother’s lawsuit. View "Lesiv v. Illinois Central Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Kingman v. Frederickson
Kingman, Rhinelander Wisconsin’s Director of Public Works, spoke at a City Council meeting with a declaration of no confidence in a colleague. Rhinelander investigated Kingman’s contentions and found them without merit. In the process, however, third-party investigators discovered that Kingman himself had not only mistreated his employees but also had gone so far as to retaliate against those who had complained about the toxic work environment he created in his department.Kingman was fired and filed a lawsuit, 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the termination reflected retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights at the City Council meeting. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Rhinelander and individual defendants, concluding that no reasonable jury could find that the Council’s vote to fire Kingman reflected unlawful retaliation. Regardless of whether Kingman spoke to the council as a private citizen or in connection with his employment, Kingman’s behavior toward his subordinates is just the type of “significant intervening event” and seriously “inappropriate workplace behavior” that separates an employee’s protected activity “from the adverse employment action he receives.” View "Kingman v. Frederickson" on Justia Law
Nigro v. Indiana University Health Care
In 2017 Nigro, a certified nurse anesthetist, began working at Riley Hospital. Division Director, Dr. Sadhasivam, recruited her and started implementing a new team-based care model. Within a year, an internal investigation revealed department-wide concern over the model’s efficacy and impact on team dynamics. Some employees believed that Sadhasivam’s leadership style resulted in a tense workplace. In 2017-2019, Nigro was the subject of multiple complaints, mostly concerning her attitude and ability to work on a team. Coworkers described her as “rude, snappy and belittling,” with management expressing concern that her behavior undermined the department’s already delicate atmosphere of collegiality. After investigating the complaints, hospital decision-makers issued a “coaching memorandum” to Nigro. A month later, it was determined that Nigro had engaged in timekeeping fraud by not working at times when she had been clocked in, Sadhasivam and three female administrators, agreed to terminate her for misconduct.Nigro filed suit under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1), alleging sex-based discrimination and retaliation because of a supportive affidavit she had signed in another employee’s discrimination case. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. There is neither direct nor indirect evidence to support Nigro’s Title VII claim. View "Nigro v. Indiana University Health Care" on Justia Law
Brooks v. Avancez
Brooks began working for Avancez in 2018. She alleges that there were statements about her age and being slow. Brooks had problems with coworkers. Shortly before her termination, Brooks stated, in a meeting, that she was a veteran and has PTSD. The others claim that she said “anything can happen,” which they interpreted as a threat. Brooks denies making a threat. Brooks refused to sign a disciplinary form and wrote a letter, complaining of age discrimination, a hostile work environment, and harassment by co-workers that was causing her PTSD to “go into relapse.” A month later, Brooks received a three-day suspension for bypassing a quality-control system meant to detect errors in products. Following a subsequent incident, a coworker claimed that Brooks threatened her by saying “we can take it outside.” After an investigation, Brooks was terminated “for disrespectful and disruptive conduct and attitude and for insubordination for failing to sign personnel meeting notes.”The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of her claims of discrimination based on age and disability (PTSD). Brooks has not provided evidence that the stated reason for her discharge is a pretext for illegal discrimination. View "Brooks v. Avancez" on Justia Law