Two circuits, the Sixth and Seventh, issue back-to-back decisions criticizing district courts for applying an excessively-stringent standard for proving comparable employees under the McDonnell Douglas test. The Seventh Circuit - in a special concurring opinion by Judge Diane Wood, co-signed by her two co-panelists - goes a step further, and urges the end of this entire line of cases: "Perhaps McDonnell Douglas was necessary nearly 40 years ago, when Title VII litigation was still relatively new in the federal courts. By now, however, as this case well illustrates, the various tests that we insist lawyers use have lost their utility."
The Seventh Circuit substantially upholds a jury verdict that the employer, the owner of a franchise restaurant, allowed two of its teen employees to be sexually harassed in violation of Title VII. The panel, in affirming denial of judgment as a matter of law, touches on several areas that recur in such cases - making the opinion a good template for future litigation and counselling in this area. The panel nonetheless reverses liability against the personnel company that managed the restaurant's employees, and remands for a new trial on that issue.
Last year, in Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 610 F.3d 434 (7th Cir. 2010), the Seventh Circuit affirmed a jury verdict and judgment in favor of the employee in a Title VII retaliation lawsuit. In the follow-on litigation over the award of attorney's fees, the Seventh Circuit vacates the district judge's nearly 50% reduction of the plaintiff lawyer's lodestar amount, creating splits with other circuits about the (ir)relevance of contingency-fee contracts and the so-called "Laffey Matrix" in determining the lodestar rate.
Memo to Directors of Human Resources: what you tell an employee about an adverse employment decision is admissible as evidence in a Title VII case, even if you were not personally involved in the final decision. The Seventh Circuit so holds in a case reversing summary judgment in a pregnancy-discrimination and FMLA case.
The Seventh Circuit reverses summary judgment on a Title VII retaliation claim, where an employee with "no performance issues, no attendance problems, and no complaints against her" loses her job as bank vice president, after the incoming president is (allegedly) tipped-off that the employee complained abut harassment.
For the second time in two weeks, the Seventh Circuit reverses summary judgment in a Title VII case where the employee alleged discriminatory discipline. The court finds that similar, if not identical, disciplinary violations were comparable enough to make out a prima facie case of discrimination. The court also reminds us of a simple, though easily-overlooked, principle: that a factual distinction proffered to defeat a "similarly situated" holding at the prima facie stage is immaterial if there is no evidence that the employer actually relied on that reason at the time decisions were made.
In a case of allegedly racially-motivated discipline, where there is no direct or circumstantial evidence of racial animus, the issue of how similarly situated the disciplined employees were can be key to whether the claim survives summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit today holds that a district court in a Title VII case erred in holding that a supervisor cannot be comparable to a line employee for purposes of applying the McDonnell Douglas method of proof, vacating summary judgment and remanding the claim for trial.
A timely reminder from the Seventh Circuit that There is no "bottom-line" defense to Title VII (Connecticut v. Teal, 457 U.S. 440 (1982)): an employer does not earn immunity from Title VII liability by pointing to minority employees whom it did not treat as shabbily.
In Title VII retaliation actions, courts often focus on "temporal proximity" - the closeness in time between the protected activity and the employer retaliation - as circumstantial evidence of causation. But this shorthand can be misleading. In this case, the Seventh Circuit reminds us that an employer may be held liable under this provision even where there has been a substantial gap between a complaint of race discrimination and the employee's termination. Here, the manager who brought down the axe down on the employee believed that the employee had raised a fresh complaint, even though the record was otherwise.
Why on earth would an employer defending a federal Title VII sex discrimination lawsuit wait until the day after the plaintiff sits for her deposition to serve her with a Notice of Disciplinary Action, referring to events going back four months? The Seventh Circuit finds direct evidence that this adverse action was motivated by retaliation, reverses summary judgment and sends the plaintiff's retaliation claim back for a trial.