The Seventh Circuit's opinion contains useful guidance for employees suffering disability discrimination and harassment. One key takeaway: plaintiffs should not be quick to assume - in charging, pleading and proving a hostile-work-environment claim - that harassment always constitutes one continuing violation. "[A] substantial passage of time without incident known to the employer, a change in the employee's supervisors, [or] an intervening remedial action by the employer" may break the chain.
Here's a terse reminder that when an employer's supposedly "legitimate, non-discriminatory" reason for an adverse action is utterly contradicted by the undisputed timeline, then summary judgment most likely ought to be denied.
In a short-but-sweet opinion, the Seventh Circuit reverses summary judgment in a Title VII retaliation case, where the district court failed to perceive a genuine dispute of material fact: specifically, when company management first became aware of the plaintiff's alleged violation of work rules. By the plaintiff's account, management knowingly overlooked her alleged breach .... until she complained about sex harassment.
Title VII requires that employers exercise due care to prevent sexual harassment of their employees by customers. The EEOC prevailed at trial on just such a claim, winning a $250,000 verdict for a woman shelver who - a jury found - was stalked for over a year by a male customer, while Costco took inadequate measures to protect her. The Seventh Circuit upholds the verdict, and even remands the case back to the district court for award of more back-pay relief.
There are several lessons in this Seventh Circuit decision, reviewing a summary judgment and jury verdict in a Title VII and § 1983 case involving state university police officers. First, the court continues to consider the use of the N-word in the workplace to be virtually per se racial harassment. Second, the filing of false reports against an employee may be deemed a materially adverse action, for purposes of retaliation. Third, even if the law mandates strict liability against an employer for retaliation by a supervisor, the jury must still be instructed on the theory or it may be waived.
The Seventh Circuit creates a split with the Eleventh Circuit, holding that job applicants may bring claims for disparate impact under the ADEA under 29 U.S.C. § 623(a)(2). The panel majority allows a challenge to an employer's classification of an in-house Senior Counsel position as "3 to 7 years (no more than 7 years) of relevant legal experience."
The Seventh Circuit reverses and remands a Title VII claim for trial that it describes as a potentially "strong case of race discrimination." In particular, it reminds district courts that the "same actor" inference - that a manager who hires Black employees is unlikely to be biased against them - is at most an argument for trial, not a rule for deciding summary judgment.
The Seventh Circuit decides a couple of useful things in this Title VII and § 1983 national-origin discrimination, harassment, and retaliation case, set in a City of Chicago firehouse. First, it holds that even petty activity such as lunch-stealing may constitute part of a hostile work environment when the entire pattern of conduct is considered together. Second, even such tedious activities as constantly shifting an employee from site to site, and intensively challenging fitness for duty after medical leave, may constitute materially adverse employment actions.
This decision was an instant sensation in the news and social media: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 held to protect employees from discrimination because of sexual orientation (and, presumably, gender identity as well). Digging into the majority and separate opinions, we can trace different possible outcomes when this question inevitably reaches the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Seventh Circuit affirms a jury award of $50,000 compensatory and $250,000 punitive damages in a Title VII retaliation case. The jury could have found, based on conflicting testimony, that the employer fired the plaintiff just two weeks after she filed an EEOC sex-harassment charge, based on an unsubstantiated complaint - reported by the alleged harasser himself - of a minor work-rule violation.