The Seventh Circuit issued a ruling in Dookeran v. County of Cook, Illinois, No. 11-3197, on May 3, 2013. The Seventh Circuit held that the District Court did not err in granting employer Cook County’s motion to dismiss the employee's Title VII action based on res judicata grounds.
The employee alleged that Cook County denied of his application for reappointment to the medical staff because of his race and national origin. The claim was dismissed because the employee failed to include his Title VII claim in his prior certiorari action that he had filed in Cook County Circuit Court that also sought appeal from said denial of his application for reappointment to said staff. The Seventh Circuit noted that both Title VII and certiorari actions satisfied the identity of causes of action element of res judicata test where both actions concerned same transaction, and there was no jurisdictional impediment to plaintiff including his Title VII action in his 2006 certiorari action. Illinois Appellate Court decisions prior to the Illinois Supreme Court decision in Blount, 904 N.E.2d 1 (2009), prohibiting plaintiffs from bringing Title VII actions in circuit court did not require different result.
On April 30, 2013, the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion in Smiley v. Columbia College Chicago, No. 10-3747.
The Seventh Circuit held that the District Court did not err in granting Columbia College's motion for summary judgment in employee’s Title VII action alleging that she was terminated from her part-time instructor position because of her race and/or national origin.
Columbia College investigated a complaint received from one of her students alleging that Smiley had isolated and singled him out for being Jewish. The record showed that Columbia College made termination decision after interviewing the student and Smiley, during which Smiley acknowledged that her teaching style involved goofing around with her students and teasing them. Therefore, Columbia College could properly conclude that Smilely's termination was warranted based upon expectation that its instructors would teach classes in professional manner.
The Seventh Circuit rejected Smiley's claim that Columbia College's investigation into the student complaint was deficient because it failed to interview other students in her class, where record showed that Columbia College's other investigations occurred in similar manner.
Further, Columbia College's procedures did not require it to contact other witnesses to alleged discriminatory conduct, and the school’s investigation of the complaint does not indicate that its reason for telling her it would not ask her to teach more classes was pretextual.
On April 16, 2013, the 7th Circuit Ruled in Majors v. General Electric Co., No. 12-2893.
The case was brought pursuant to the ADA, alleging that GE denied Majors a temporary position because of her shoulder condition, which precluded her from lifting more than 20 pounds.
The Seventh Circuit held that the District Court did not err in granting the employer’s motion for summary judgment because Majors failed to establish that she could perform essential function of her position, namely lifting more than 20 pounds, and her only proposed accommodation of having someone else perform said lifting duties was unreasonable. The fact that GE allegedly rejected Majors's proposal without offering counter-proposal did not require different result.
Additionally, Majors failed to present sufficient evidence to establish a retaliation claim based on GE's failure to award her overtime after filing EEOC charge, where her proposed comparable co-workers, who received more overtime, held positions with different job classifications.
On March 29, 2013, the Seventh Circuit ruled in Hall v. City of Chicago, No. 11-3279. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that the district court erred in granting the employer’s motion for summary judgment in Title VII.
The employee presented evidence of both objective and subjective hostile work environment where the supervisor: (1) isolated the employee from the otherwise predominantly male workforce; (2) assigned her only menial jobs; and (3) subjected her to periodic episodes of verbal intimidation (including an occasion where the supervisor indicated that he “ought to slap that woman,”) which suggested that his animus was related to her gender.
The fact that each action individually was insufficient by itself to establish hostile work environment did not require a different result.
On March 21, 2013, the Seventh Circuit ruled in Northington v. H & M International, No. 12-1233, a Title VII case alleging that plaintiff was fired in retaliation for making a complaint that co-workers harassed plaintiff.
The Seventh Circuit held that the District Court did not err in granting employer’s motion for summary judgment.
The Seventh Circuit noted that the employee did not state at the time of the complaint that co-workers harassment of the employee was based on any protected classification. Furthermore, the record established that the motivation for the harassment was based only on personal conflict between the plaintiff and her co-workers. As such, plaintiff failed to show that she had engaged in protected activity to support retaliation claim.
On March 26, 2013, the Seventh Circuit issued a ruling in Teed v. Thomas & Betts Power Solutions, LLC, Nos. 12-2440, 12-3029, a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) collective action where a settlement was reached and the original defendants sold its company. (2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 5972). The case questioned whether the federal or state standard for successor liability applies when liability is based on the FLSA.
When a company is sold in an asset sale as opposed to a stock sale, the buyer acquires the company's assets but not necessarily its liabilities. Whether or not the buyer acquires the liabilities is the issue of successor liability. Most states (including Wisconsin) limit such liability. However, federal common law standard of successor liability is more favorable to plaintiffs than most state-law standards.
The Court held that federal standard of successor liability is appropriate in suits to enforce federal labor or employment laws. Further, successor liability was properly applied to the successor even though the assets were purchased under the condition that purchasing company would be free of all employer’s FSLA liabilities.
On March 8, 2013, the Seventh Circuit ruled in Vaughn v. Vilsack, No. 11-3673. The Court held that the District Court did not err in granting employer’s motion for summary judgment.
In the underlying action, the employee-plaintiff brought a Title VII action alleging that the employer changed the employee's work schedule and denied him overtime opportunities in retaliation for filing discrimination claims that were ultimately settled.
The employer explained that the changes in the work schedule and denial of overtime were necessary to comply with the settlement of a sexual harassment claim made by co-worker who accused plaintiff of misconduct.
While the record showed that plaintiff had received changes to his work schedule shortly after he had settled his own claims against his employer, the plaintiff failed to show that he was meeting the employer's legitimate employment expectations where management held an honest belief that plaintiff had been harassing his co-worker, which led to the changes in plaintiff's schedule. The fact that the defendant did not interview the plaintiff during its investigation of sexual harassment claims did not require a different result.
On March 8, 2013, the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion in an employment discrimination case, Collins v. American Red Cross, No. 11-3345.
The Seventh Circuit held that the District Court did not err in granting the Red Cross's motion for summary judgment. In the underlying action, Collins asserted that the Red Cross fired her because of her race and in retaliation for filing an EEOC claim alleging racial discrimination, in violation of Title VII.
The record showed that several of Collins's co-workers had complained of Collins's misconduct in workplace, and that Collins was fired after a management investigation substantiated those complaints. While Collins (1) denied all the accusations against her, (2) asserted that management’s investigation was “sloppy,” and (3) claimed that management could have come to wrong conclusion, those assertions did not require a different result because management’s conclusions were not facially incredible, and where Collins failed to present evidence that decision-makers held any discriminatory animosity.
On March 4, 2013, the Seventh Circuit ruled in Sanchez v. Prudential Pizza, Inc., No. 12-2208.
In the underlying action, employee Sanchez sued Prudential Pizza for sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation under Title VII. Employer Prudential Pizza made a Rule 68 offer of judgment. That offer simply offered to resolve Sanchez's “claims for relief” and did not mention Sanchez's attorneys' fees or costs.
The Seventh Circuit held that Prudential Pizza's Rule 68 offer was ambiguous regarding the payment of fees and costs, because it did not specifically reference costs or specify the claims that were covered by the offer. “Either failure alone is sufficient to render the offer ambiguous,” it wrote, adding that ambiguities are resolved against the party making a Rule 68 offer.
Therefore, the employer must pay Sanchez's attorneys' fees and costs, despite her acceptance of Prudential Pizza's $30,000 offer of judgment.
On February 21, 2013, the Seventh Circuit issued a ruling in Teruggi v. The Cit Group/Capital Finance, Inc., No. 12-2314.
The Court affirmed the District Court. The Dist. Ct. granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment in an ADA and ADEA action, which alleged that the employer had terminated Teruggi because of his disability and age.
While Teruggi’s supervisor made comments regarding Teruggi's retirement plans, about being “old” and being on drugs, such evidence did not establish discriminatory motive when the comments were made at least 18 months prior to the termination decision.