Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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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

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In December 2014, Arctic hired Graham as its maintenance supervisor. Arctic soon received customer complaints about his attitude and noticed his insubordination and difficulty completing tasks on time. In February 2015, Graham was injured on the job. He did not work until May and received worker’s compensation. Graham returned to work with medical restrictions requiring that he work sitting down. Arctic assigned Graham to skate sharpening. Graham maintains that the task requires standing but did not inform Arctic of his belief that skate sharpening did not meet his restrictions. When Graham transitioned back to full-time work. Arctic assigned him to work evenings because of seasonal need. Graham characterized this as a “demotion.” In October 2015, Graham caused a Zamboni accident. Arctic claimed that Graham created a hazard to its customers and fired Graham, citing his poor attitude about his position; poor attitude toward customers; lack of timeliness; insubordination; and the Zamboni accident, which caused Arctic to lose revenue. Graham sued, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, by failure to reasonably accommodate his disability and by his termination based on disability. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Arctic. If an employee does not provide sufficient information to determine the necessary accommodations, the employer cannot be held liable for failing to accommodate the disabled employee. Graham did not provide enough evidence to support an inference of bad faith in his termination. View "Graham v. Arctic Zone Iceplex LLC" on Justia Law

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A CTA bus passenger threatened Pickett, the driver. He took six months off from work while recovering. After his physician concluded that he could return to work (though not as a driver), Pickett requested a light-duty job. He was given one but four days later he was told that the CTA was not ready to permit his return to work. Pickett had been told that before returning to work he needed to complete a (provided) form and report to CTA’s Leave Management Services office, which would administer tests (including a drug screen). He ignored those directions until 2017. He was then approved for work and retired five days later. Before visiting Leave Management Services in 2017 he had filed an EEOC charge of age discrimination, claiming that during 2015 he saw persons younger than himself doing light-duty tasks. After receiving his right-to-sue letter, Pickett sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621–34. The district court granted the CTA summary judgment after denying Pickett’s request for appointed counsel without explanation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court’s failure to explain its decision was harmless error. Pickett has not shown how a lawyer could have helped him overcome his biggest obstacle: he never took the steps that CTA told him were essential. View "Lawrence Pickett v. Chicago Transit Authority" on Justia Law

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Guerrero was trying to drive to his job at BNSF Railway through a snowstorm early one morning. His car skidded, collided with a snowplow, and he was killed. His widow sought compensatory damages from BNSF under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA, 45 U.S.C. 51–59). The district court ruled in favor of BNSF. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Stating that the question of whether Guerrero was within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred was a close one, the court declined to resolve the issue. Guerrero was not heading to his normal job, but had accepted a special assignment; his union contract provides that “the time of an employee who is called after release from duty to report for work will begin at the time called.” Looking at the evidence favorably to Guerrero, he was not commuting, but was “on the clock” and working on the special assignment. No jury, however, could find that BNSF was negligent in any action it took or failed to take with respect to Guerrero. FELA does not make the employer the insurer of the safety of his employees while they are on duty. The only action BNSF took was to ask Guerrero to come to work under conditions known to both parties. View "Guerrero v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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University Park’s mayor and board fired police chief Bradley without any notice of good cause or any form of hearing, in violation of his employment contract. Bradley sued the village and mayor under 42 U.S.C.1983 for violating his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of Bradley’s due process claim on the pleadings. The parties agreed that Bradley had a protected property interest in his continued employment; that the mayor and the village board are the policymakers for their municipality; and that although there was ample opportunity for a hearing, Bradley received no pre-termination notice or hearing. Those points of agreement suffice to prove a section 1983 due process claim against the individual officials and the village, where the village acted through high-ranking officials with policymaking authority. The court rejected the defense’s argument, based on cases that excuse liability for the absence of pre-deprivation due process if the deprivation is the result of a “random, unauthorized act by a state employee, rather than an established state procedure,” and “if a meaningful post-deprivation remedy for the loss is available.” The court reasoned that such a broad reading of precedent would effectively impose an “exhaustion of remedies” requirement that has been rejected by the Supreme Court. View "Bradley v. Village of University Park" on Justia Law

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Collins was a tenured professor at the University. A faculty committee found that Collins had misused grant money by purchasing equipment other than that in his grant proposals and using the equipment for personal purposes and concluded that his actions warranted “dismissal for serious cause” under the Academic Articles incorporated in Collins’s faculty contract. After an internal review, Notre Dame’s president dismissed Collins. Before criminal charges were filed against him, Collins filed suit, alleging breach of contract. Before his guilty plea, the district court granted Collins summary judgment on liability, finding that Notre Dame breached the contract by allowing one faculty member to both play a role in informal mediation and then serve on the hearing committee. The court did not decide whether the committee’s findings amounted to sufficient cause to dismiss a tenured faculty member. After Collins’s 2013 guilty plea to a federal felony charge for theft of government grant funds in this same conduct, Notre Dame re‐instituted Collins’s adjudication and dismissed him again. After the guilty plea, the court reaffirmed its earlier breach of contract finding, held a trial on damages, and awarded Collins $501,367, calculated as his lost compensation from his June 2010 dismissal until his February 2013 conviction. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The contract did not prohibit one faculty member from participating in informal mediation and then serving on the hearing committee and the undisputed facts show “serious cause” sufficient to warrant Collins’s dismissal. View "Collins v. University of Notre Dame Du Lac" on Justia Law