I think we have the right sign for the Seventh Circuit this week. The same day that the court interred the rule against using an employee's "self-serving" testimony to resist summary judgment in employment-discrimination cases, another panel of the same court helps correct a lingering misunderstanding about what it means for an employee to use a "mosaic" of circumstantial evidence under Title VII - and also backs off a bit from a strict direct/indirect framework of proof enforced by that circuit. Such cases may help district courts reach more sensible decisions at the summary judgment stage.
The Seventh Circuit announces that it is overruling language in employment-discrimination cases going back over twenty years, and reminding courts that an employee's own testimony is, if otherwise relevant, admissible to resist summary judgment. Such testimony will no longer be excluded as "self serving."
The Sixth Circuit demolishes a popular defense tactic by employers in discrimination cases, holding that district courts should not readily entertain motions in limine to exclude evidence that are often filed after summary judgment motions fail. The panel holds that such motions often intrude on the jury's role as fact-finder, while denying employees the procedural protections of summary judgment. The court reverses the exclusion of evidence of comparative employees and remands an age and national-origin discrimination case for trial.
The D.C. Circuit remands a federal-sector race discrimination case for trial, where a jury will decide whether the agency's (alleged) inability to keep its story straight about the process it used to interview candidates - and then supposedly cancel a new GS-14 position - demonstrates racial bias.
An employer that strenuously denied that it fired an employee who complained about sex harassment finds itself short-handed on appeal. The Ninth Circuit - in a 2-1 decision - reverses summary judgment in this Title VII harassment and retaliation case, holding that an employer that fails to offer a reason or explanation for a termination decision creates an issue of fact for the jury to decide.
Here's a potentially important case for disabled persons and their advocates residing in the Second Circuit (NY, CT and VT) and elsewhere. A panel reverses summary judgment in a case involving a city professional employee with schizophrenia under medication, holding that accommodations such as flex-time and unsupervised work may be reasonable in some instances. In this particular case, the record reflected that the employee had been so accommodated for ten years before a supervisor suddenly and inexplicably called an end to it.
This week, the Second Circuit issued two opinions that at least partially reversed summary judgment in Title VII harassment and retaliation cases. In the first, Desardouin, the panel returned a sex harassment claim that concerned sexual comments made to the plaintiff weekly by her supervisor over a two to three month period. In the second, Summa, the court held that under Title VII (and Title IX, governing educational institutions), it can be a protected activity under the statute's anti-retaliation provisions to complain of even a single incident of alleged harassment.
A common scenario in employment cases is the manager or supervisor who overreacts to a blow-up at work by firing the employee. What the employer may deem as a measured response to insubordination can, after the fact, be held by a court or jury to be the culmination of unlawful discrimination or retaliation. In this case, the First Circuit returns just such a case for a trial, reversing summary judgment entered against a nurse who was fired after complaining that she was being worked beyond her restrictions.
In this ADEA case, the Eleventh Circuit affirms the simple truth under employment discrimination law that when the decision-maker later (reportedly) disavows the very reasons that the employer gives for firing an employee, this circumstance presents a witness credibility issue that cannot be decided on paper alone, and only a jury can properly resolve.
The Seventh Circuit, per Judge Richard Posner, reminds the lower courts once again that private-sector employees do not have an administrative "exhaustion" requirement under Title VII, and that disputed issues of fact about limitations periods belong to a jury, not the judge.