The Seventh Circuit weighs in on an ERISA issue dividing the circuits: Do participants' informal complaints about plan-related issues constitute protected activity under Section 510, 29 U.S.C. §1140? With a thoughtful parsing of the language, the panel holds that such complaints do trigger the protections of Section 510.
In a fact scenario all-too-common in disabilities discrimination cases, the employer here accommodated an employee for a number of years, but then retrenched. The Seventh Circuit reverses summary judgment in an ADA case in which an employer allegedly failed to accommodate an employee with a sleeping disability. The panel holds, among There things, that the record presents a genuine issue of material fact about whether the employer made overtime an essential function of the job.
Several federal circuits have held that state (and other public) employees cannot seek relief for age discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, because the ADEA supposedly provides the exclusive remedy for such claims. Yet the Seventh Circuit steps surprisingly out-of-line, and holds that § 1983 claims may be brought to vindicate the federal constitutional right of Equal Protection against arbitrary age-based classifications, independently of the ADEA. It further holds that state agency heads cannot necessarily hide behind qualified immunity to avoid a lawsuit.
This my favorite kind of entry to write: the Seventh Circuit revives a jury verdict for a victim of sex harassment, and in so doing elaborates that behavior not particularly sexual in nature - such as repeatedly calling a woman employee a "bitch" - can support Title VII liability. Regrettably, though, the plaintiff loses her termination claim and a large percentage of her damages.
The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take a look at a long-standing circuit split under Title VII, about how much authority an agent of an employer must exercise over an employee to be deemed a "supervisor" for purposes of vicarious liability for sex or other harassment. The Tenth Circuit, meanwhile, remands a race harassment case for trial, finding sufficient evidence that the harassment was severe.
Periodically, a case comes along that reminds us that Title VII and § 1981 are not exactly identical statutes. The Seventh Circuit holds, in a case of first impression, that an individual employee (here, a human-resources executive) with a retaliatory motive may be individually liable under § 1981 for causing the employer to retaliate against an employee who complained about race harassment. In this case, though, the plaintiff ultimately fails to overturn the district court's summary judgment against his claim on the merits. The panel also criticizes the district court's refusal to allow the employee to respond to evidence raised by the employee in a reply brief.
For the second time this week, a federal court of appeals upholds a jury verdict in an employment discrimination case - here, a $30,000 award and reinstatement for a Title VII retaliation claim. The Seventh Circuit overrules a defense argument that a demotion is somehow not a "materially adverse action" if the employee reluctantly accepts it.
Plaintiffs lately seem to be on a tear in the Seventh Circuit. Here's another reversal of summary judgment where the district court judge misapplied the McDonnell Douglas test to an Equal Pay Act case, earning the storied burden-shifting method of proof yet another swift kick by a Seventh Circuit panel.
Two appeals reviewing jury trials in Title VII cases came down today. In the first, the plaintiff - a physician - wins two claims at trial (retaliation and constructive discharge, centered on claims of racial discrimination), but loses the latter claim on appeal, necessitating a remand for recalculation of damages. In the second, the plaintiff lost her sex discrimination and retaliation trial, but the Seventh Circuit vacates and remands, criticizing the unnecessarily complicated and inaccurate jury verdict and instruction forms.
For employers and their counsel who insist that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011), is a silver bullet against Title VII discrimination class actions, today's decision in the McReynolds case was not good news. The Seventh Circuit sweeps past the employer's arguments and holds that the district court erred by not certifying a Rule 23 class action in a disparate-impact race discrimination case.