There's a problem with so many employment-discrimination cases being dismissed by judges before a jury trial on summary judgment, i.e., a legal ruling that There are no genuine disputes of material fact for a jury to decide. For judges to carry out their role, they and their chambers must get on top of a mass of written facts, often hundreds or thousands of pages, and trust the parties to brief them honestly. In a Title VII and FMLA case decided today, the Seventh Circuit - reversing summary judgment - sends notice that defense counsel risk their credibility when they file unfounded motions.
This case presents the nice question of whether an employer violated Title VII by punishing a woman more harshly than her male counterpart for the same misconduct, i.e., jointly carrying on a workplace affair. The Seventh Circuit says that there is enough of a genuine dispute of facts to reverse summary judgment and remand for further discovery. The court also remands a claim of sex harassment, which included the extraordinary complaint that the employer tolerated employees having after-hours sexual liaisons on the plaintiff's office desk (which the panel found, notably, was not a form of sex harassment).
The U.S. Supreme Court in recent terms has encouraged federal courts to weed out supposedly meritless civil claims by use of the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Yet the Seventh Circuit reaffirms this week that this method is often not appropriate for Title VII discrimination and retaliation claims. The panel vacates and remands dismissal of a Title VII complaint, holding that the district court was too quick to demand facts and evidence in support of the class before discovery commenced. The court also reverses a decision holding that some of the claims were allegedly preempted by the Railway Labor Act.
Racial coding continues in the workplace today, the jotting of surreptitious entries on job applications to avoid hiring disfavored minorities. And in this case, even when the evidence was staring the trial judge in the face - plaintiff's unsuccessful application said "black" in handwriting, and no witness from the employer offered an explanation why - the judge still found that there was an innocent explanation for it. The Seventh Circuit tosses a bench verdict in favor of the employer, decreeing that the trial judge must reconsider evidence that clearly favored the employee's claim of race discrimination.
"This case is about what qualifies as 'caring for' a family member under the Act. In particular, it is about whether the [Family and Medical Leave Act] applies when an employee requests leave so that she can provide physical and psychological care to a terminally ill parent while that parent is traveling away from home." The Seventh Circuit holds that an employee could use FMLA leave to accompany her mother to Las Vegas as her basic care support.
Any employer that fires a disabled worker on the heels of a request for an ADA workplace accommodation - and entirely disregards a doctor's recommendation - is nothing if not buying trouble. The Seventh Circuit reverses summary judgment on just such a claim, holding that the employee presented a genuine dispute of material fact when she was fired just days after filing paperwork from her physician requesting scheduled rest periods. The record includes deposition testimony by a decision maker that "I don't believe that the doctor is in a position to make that determination. It is his opinion."
The Seventh Circuit reverses summary judgment in a case involving allegations of racially discriminatory (and retaliatory) treatment of two African American cocktail servers at a Mississippi River casino. The court holds that discrimination in table assignments is an adverse employment action under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, because it cut into the servers' tip income.
The EEOC posts a huge win in the Seventh Circuit, with the court holding that the agency's alleged failure to reasonably conciliate a claim with an employer does not pose an affirmative defense to a claim filed by the EEOC in court. In so holding, the circuit creates a split with six other circuits that have heretofore permitted employers to argue such a defense. "While we respect the views of our colleagues in these circuits," the panel holds, "we also recognize our duty to decide our cases independently and to disagree when we must."
Seven years into litigation, plaintiff James Killian is a little closer to achieving justice for his late wife. After litigating an ERISA case unsuccessfully before two federal district court judges and a Seventh Circuit panel, the full Seventh Circuit today holds that Mr. Killian may pursue a claim for himself and his spouse's estate against her health care plan. He alleges that the plan misled them about whether Ms. Killian's end-stage care was within network, in breach of the duty of prudence under 29 U.S.C. § 1104(a)(1)(B). The court affirms that the ERISA duty of prudence requires complete disclosure by the plan administrator, "even if that requires conveying information about which the beneficiary did not specifically inquire."
The Seventh Circuit continues on its march toward sensible decision-making in employment discrimination cases, reversing dismissal of an ADEA case and reaffirming that an employee may survive summary judgment by any combination of evidence "that a rational jury could conclude" proves "that the employer took the adverse action against the plaintiff because he is a member of a protected class." The evidence included a deposition admission by the CEO that the company hired a new replacement salesman in his 20s because "he was a young individual" and, though inexperienced, "our thought process on him was he was a young guy, give him a shot [to] drive around the state showing fire trucks and learn the business."