Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Nichols v. Illinois Department of Transportation
In his employment discrimination action, Nichols obtained a judgment of $1.5 million in damages (later reduced to the statutory cap of $300,000) and $952,156 in equitable relief. His attorney, Longo petitioned for $1,709,345 in attorneys’ fees and $4,460.47 in costs under Title VII’s fee-shifting provision, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-5(k). He submitted that his hourly rate was $550 and that he had worked 3,107.9 hours on Nichols’s case; he requested a 15% upward adjustment, arguing that Nichols’s case was “risky”; the successful outcome; and the deterrent impact of a large award.The Seventh Circuit affirmed an award of $774,584.50 in fees and $4,061.02 in costs. Relying on other then-recent fee awards for Longo, the court set the reasonable hourly rate at $360 for attorney work and $125 for paralegal work. The court reduced Longo’s request by 962.1 hours, including 109.2 hours that Longo had billed for trips from his office to the courthouse; 18.5 hours for paralegal work billed at an attorney’s rate; a 10% reduction (298.0 hours) for excessive billing for clerical work; and another 20% reduction (536.4 hours) for general excessive billing. The court permitted Longo 2,145.8 hours at an attorney’s rate and 18.5 hours at a paralegal’s rate and denied Longo fees for litigating the fee petition, noting Longo’s lack of billing judgment and overly voluminous petition. View "Nichols v. Illinois Department of Transportation" on Justia Law
StarNet Insurance Co. v. Ruprecht
Deerfield. the general contractor, subcontracted with P.S. Demolition, which agreed to indemnify and hold Deerfield harmless from all claims caused in whole or in part by P.S. P.S. employees were working at the site when an unsecured capstone fell, killing one and injuring another. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act limited P.S.’s liability to $5,993.91 and $25,229.15. The state court held that P.S. had waived the Kotecki cap that would ordinarily apply those limits to a third party (Deerfield) suing for contribution for its pro-rata share of common liability for a workplace injury. A bankruptcy court determined that P.S. had no assets; the state court determined that P.S.’s liability was limited to its available insurance coverage. Deerfield settled with the plaintiffs for substantially more than $75,000 plus an assignment of Deerfield’s contribution claim against P.S.StarNet, P.S.’s employer liability insurer, entered into a settlement with the plaintiffs, reserving its defenses to insurance coverage. The plaintiffs dismissed their negligence claims against P.S. The workers’ compensation and employers' liability policy issued to P.S. provides that StarNet will pay damages for which P.S. is liable to indemnify third parties, excluding “liability assumed under a contract, including any agreement to waive your right to limit your liability for contribution to the amount of benefits payable under the Workers Compensation Act ... This exclusion does not apply to a warranty that your work will be done in a workmanlike manner.The Seventh Circuit affirmed a declaratory judgment that StarNet owes P.S. no coverage for the employees’ injuries beyond the amounts specified by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and the Kotecki cap. The court rejected arguments that P.S.’s liability in the personal injury action arose in part from P.S.’s failure to conduct the demolition in a workmanlike manner so that the exception applies. View "StarNet Insurance Co. v. Ruprecht" on Justia Law
Daza v. Indiana
Daza worked as a geologist for INDOT from 1993 until the agency fired him in 2015. In 2017, he sued, citing 42 U.S.C. 1981 and 1983, the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101. He alleged that INDOT and its officials had discriminated against him based on race, color, age, and political speech and had retaliated against complaints he made regarding the alleged discrimination.Days after the district court granted INDOT summary judgment in 2018, Daza filed a second action, again alleging discrimination and retaliation based on race, color, age, and political speech, contending that INDOT’s failure to rehire him for the vacancy left after INDOT dismissed him was an independent act of discrimination and retaliation because INDOT filled his position with a young and inexperienced white man. In the first suit, Daza had expressly contended that INDOT’s failure to rehire him and its decision to hire an unqualified replacement proved that INDOT was attempting to cover up its discrimination and retaliation. The Seventh Circuit again affirmed summary judgment in favor of INDOT. Claim preclusion barred the second case. View "Daza v. Indiana" on Justia Law
Eaton v. J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc.
Eaton was an apprentice in 2011 when Local 139 dispatched her to Findorff. At the end of Eaton’s first day on the job Findorff’s Project Superintendent, Szymkowski, terminated Eaton, concluding that she was inadequately trained. Local 139 filed a grievance. Findorff agreed to hire Eaton for a different job when that position became available. Weeks later, Findorff hired Eaton. Szymkowski privately told Eaton that she was slow and inefficient but rated her an average apprentice when filling out reports, which addressed only her technical skills. In late 2011, Findorff found itself overstaffed and implemented a rotating layoff schedule. Eaton filed a charge with the EEOC alleging that her layoff amounted to discrimination on the basis of sex; her complaint was dismissed. In August 2012, Findorff no longer needed a skip hoist operator and her employment was terminated.In 2017, Eaton left a resume at Findorff. Szymkowski told the company’s receptionist that he would not rehire her. Later, a position opened. Local 139 notified Findorff’s receptionist that it was dispatching Eaton. Szymkowski sent a letter to Local 139, declining to hire Eaton due to past performance issues.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Findorff. Eaton waived a claim of sex discrimination. She lacks any evidence that the decision-makers knew that she had engaged in protected activity; she has failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact in support of causation for her retaliation claim. View "Eaton v. J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc." on Justia Law
Taylor v. Ernst
Taylor was fired from his job as a Cook County Sheriff’s officer. He sued the Sheriff’s Office under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Ways, Whittler, and Ernst under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violating the Equal Protection Clause. The defendants maintain that Taylor was terminated for having fired pellets with an air rifle at his neighbor, a charge that Taylor denies. Ernst was the lead investigator assigned to Taylor’s case. Taylor offered evidence that Ernst engineered his firing based on racial animosity. Taylor also asserted that Ways and Whittler, Sheriff’s Office officials, are liable because they reviewed Ernst’s final report and endorsed his recommendation of termination.On interlocutory appeal, the Seventh Circuit upheld the denial of qualified immunity as to Ernst. Taylor presented evidence of Ernst’s significant role in the investigative and disciplinary proceedings that brought about Taylor’s termination. Any reasonable official in Ernst’s position would have known that intentional racial discrimination toward another employee was unconstitutional and what Taylor alleges against Ernst is textbook racial discrimination: the word “n****r,” used by Ernst, a white man, aimed at Taylor on several occasions. The court reversed the denials of qualified immunity to Ways and Whittler; evidence that they played key roles in approving Ernst’s termination does not signal that either harbored any racial animus or that they knew or suspected that Ernst was motivated by race. Taylor’s Title VII claim remains pending. View "Taylor v. Ernst" on Justia Law
Vesey v. Envoy Air, Inc.
Vesey, an African American woman, began work in 2012 for Envoy as a Quad Cities Airport station agent. In 2014, she drove a jet bridge into an aircraft and received a serious reprimand that remained in effect for two years. In 2016, Vesey and other Envoy employees lodged workplace-related complaints against each other. Envoy investigated and found Vesey’s allegations of bias and favoritism unsubstantiated. Weeks later, Vesey reported that a coworker, Masengarb, directed racist remarks and actions at her. Envoy found that complaint substantiated and fired Masengarb. Vesey claimed that others undertook a campaign of retaliation and harassment against her. An investigation uncovered several instances in which Vesey violated policies concerning the use of her travel benefit. Given that finding and the active reprimand, the investigator recommended termination. Vesey sued Envoy, alleging retaliation and a hostile work environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Envoy. Vesey does not allege retaliatory motives by Envoy’s investigators who recommended her termination, or by the committee members who approved it. The mere fact that an employee’s wrongdoing was reported by a biased supervisor with a retaliatory or discriminatory motive does not establish liability. A reasonable jury could not have concluded that Vesey was terminated for any reason other than her abuse of travel benefits. View "Vesey v. Envoy Air, Inc." on Justia Law
Cloutier v. GoJet Airlines, LLC
Plaintiff filed suit against GoJet for violations of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after GoJet terminated him following his Diabetes Type II diagnosis. The jury found in plaintiff's favor and the district court granted him back pay, liquidated damages, and front pay. GoJet appealed and plaintiff cross-appealed.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of GoJet's motion to dismiss, holding that the arbitration provisions in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) did not clearly, unmistakably, or explicitly state that plaintiff's FMLA claims could only be brought in arbitration. The court rejected GoJet's arguments that the district court erred in denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law. In regard to damages, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in calculating damages based on minimum hours at GoJet because it plausibly could have found that plaintiff would have worked the minimum number of hours from his termination date onward. However, the court held that the district court erred when it calculated front pay based on two different values for how much work the court expected plaintiff to work at GoJet and SkyWest. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded on this issue for the district court to apply a uniform hourly figure to calculate expected earnings at GoJet and SkyWest for the purposes of front pay. Finally, the court concluded that plaintiff waived his argument regarding the district court's front pay calculations based on post-trial evidence and his argument regarding the correct methodology for calculating damages. Accordingly, the court affirmed as to all other issues on appeal. View "Cloutier v. GoJet Airlines, LLC" on Justia Law
Sinha v. Bradley University
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the University in an action alleging retaliation claims against the University under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). In this case, plaintiff alleged that the University unlawfully retaliated against him for declining requests to implement age-discriminatory policies against older faculty members. Plaintiff alleged that the University did so by removing him as department chair and by denying his application for promotion.In regard to plaintiff's claim that the University violated the ADEA by removing him as department chair, the court concluded that plaintiff's cat's paw theory of liability failed where plaintiff cannot demonstrate that the supervisor proximately caused plaintiff's removal as chair because the decisionmaker drew a conclusion independent of any alleged influence by the supervisor. The court explained that, in his deposition, the decisionmaker explained that he removed plaintiff based on the faculty grievance committee report and the Title IX investigation report, both of which highlighted the toxic and dysfunctional culture within the department. In regard to plaintiff's denial-of-promotion claim, the court concluded that the district court correctly determined that this claim is time-barred. View "Sinha v. Bradley University" on Justia Law
Hadsall v. Sunbelt Rentals, Inc.
The Regional Director of the NLRB sought a temporary injunction under 29 U.S.C. 160(j), pending the Board’s resolution of unfair labor practices charges against Sunbelt. The ALJ in the Board proceeding subsequently issued its recommendation, concluding that Sunbelt had violated sections 8(a)(1), (3), and (5) of the Act. Before the district court, the Director submitted that Sunbelt had violated, and continued to violate those sections by interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of their rights under the Act; discriminatorily eliminating the bargaining unit and failing and refusing to bargain collectively and in good faith. The district court granted an injunction, ordering Sunbelt to cease certain unfair labor practices.While Sunbelt’s appeal was pending, the Board issued its decision and order. The Director then moved to dismiss this appeal of the injunction as moot. Sunbelt submitted that the appeal was not moot because the Board had severed and retained one issue for further consideration. The Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal and directed the district court to vacate its judgment. The Board’s resolution of the unfair labor practices charges moots the appeal, regardless of the fact that the Board severed one issue and retained it for further consideration. The severed issue was not one presented to the district court in the Director’s petition for an injunction. The temporary relief authorized by the statute is no longer available. View "Hadsall v. Sunbelt Rentals, Inc." on Justia Law
Gamble v. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC
Gamble, an African-American, began working for FCA in 2015 and received a copy of FCA’s policy concerning sexual harassment, which could result in termination. Months later, two female employees complained that Gamble had sexually harassed them. After interviewing witnesses, Pollard, a human resources manager, concluded that Gamble had violated FCA’s policy and issued a warning. He acknowledged the warning and attended remedial training but disputed the harassing nature of his comments. In 2017, Gamble’s supervisor reported that he had witnessed Gamble acting inappropriately toward a female. Pollard initiated another investigation. Another woman complained that Gamble had also acted inappropriately toward her. Gamble was terminated.He filed suit, alleging discriminations based on his race, age (63), and disability (having battled cancer), and citing Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; 42 U.S.C. 1981; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C, 12112; and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C.A. 621–34.1 The district court granted FCO summary judgment. Gamble had abandoned his ADEA and ADA claims; his section 1981 claim for race discrimination was time-barred by a provision in his employment contract. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No reasonable jury could infer that Gamble was treated less favorably than a similarly situated employee outside of his protected class. There was no evidence FCA gave a pretextual reason for firing him. View "Gamble v. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC" on Justia Law