Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Whitaker worked for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, processing applications for benefits and answering phones. In 2009, Whitaker filed a disability form regarding her chronic back pain. She received permission to stand and stretch for five minutes once every 30 minutes during the workday. In 2010, Whitaker took consecutive leaves of absence. At times she indicated that she was requesting leave due to her disability. At other times it was less clear why she requested leave. The Department fired Whitaker when she did not return to work after exhausting her unpaid statutory and contractual medical leave. Whitaker sued, claiming that the Department failed to accommodate her disability and terminated her employment in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794. The district court granted the Department summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that Whitaker failed to establish that she was an “otherwise qualified” employee, as required by the Rehabilitation Act. The only medical documents Whitaker supplied were two terse doctor notes, stating “medical leave of absence until 11/17/10” and “medical leave of absence until 12/17/10.” The notes did not explain whether Whitaker was receiving treatment or the likely effectiveness of any treatment. View "Whitaker v. Wisconsin Department of Health Services" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Roake, an off-duty Forest Preserve District of Cook County police officer, took champagne to a department police station to celebrate the New Year, allegedly with permission from a sergeant. In January 2014, the department initiated disciplinary proceedings against Roake for his participation in the New Year’s Eve gathering. Roake alleges that hearing officers “upheld the charges” against him, and that he saw the “handwriting on the wall,” so he resigned his job. Roake claimed that his involvement in the party was a pretext for disciplining him because he had previously reported official misconduct within the department: an October 2013 incident involved racial profiling; the other, around February 6, 2014, involved a fellow officer whom Roake believed had been unjustly disciplined. Roake alleges that officials of the Forest Preserve department told certain prospective employers that he had consumed alcohol while on duty, damaging his professional reputation and making it difficult for him to find work. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of his retaliation action under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Roake did not show that he was disciplined for engaging in constitutionally protected speech, or that he was deprived of a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest without due process. View "Roake v. Forest Preserve District of Cook County" on Justia Law

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In 2005, while serving in the Army National Guard, Bird injured a tendon in his right shoulder. He was operated on in 2006. He reported to Veterans Affairs doctors that he suffered hearing loss, migraines, and stiffness and pain in his hands, back and right shoulder, as well as anxiety, weakness in gripping objects, and ringing in his ears. The medical records include contradictory opinions from treating physicians. The Department of Veterans Affairs gave Bird a 70% service-connected disability rating but pays him at the 100% rate because they found him unemployable. The Social Security Administration denied Douglas Bird’s application for disability insurance benefits. The district court remanded. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The VA’s finding that Bird is 70% disabled and unemployable does not establish that he is entitled to SSA benefits. There are differences in how the agencies evaluate claims: the VA’s evaluation is pro-claimant rather than neutral. The grounds for the VA’s decision finding Bird to be 70% disabled and unemployable were not available to the ALJ and neither were the results of Bird’s x-ray and MRI. The record even includes evidence conflicting with a finding of disability. View "Bird v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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PFAC is the collective‐bargaining representative for more than 1,200 part‐time faculty members at Columbia College Chicago. The parties agreed to continue under a 2006-2010 collective bargaining agreement while they bargained for a successor agreement. During negotiations, Columbia unilaterally decided to reduce the credit hours for 10 courses in its School of Fine and Performing Arts (SFPA). Consistent with the CBA, Columbia notified part‐time faculty members affected by these changes, but not PFAC. PFAC filed an unfair‐labor‐practice charge regarding Columbia’s refusal to bargain over the effects reduction of course credit hours in a different department. The parties settled that charge. Negotiations broke down. PFAC learned of the SFPA credit‐hour reductions and demanded to bargain. In February 2012, PFAC called for Columbia to resume negotiations. Columbia responded that it had no obligation to bargain about the course‐credit‐hour reductions. The parties resumed negotiations in June. In August, the NLRB lodged a complaint against Columbia, alleging violations of 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(1),(5), by failing to bargain: over the effects of the credit‐hour reductions before May 2012; for a successor CBA from February to June 2012; and in good faith. The Board upheld the charges and awarded bargaining expenses. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part. Columbia was not required to bargain over the effects of the credit‐hour reductions. The college had already satisfied its statutory bargaining duty on this issue when it negotiated and entered into the 2006 CBA. View "National Labor Relations Board v. Columbia College Chicago" on Justia Law

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Dana operates a Summit, Illinois truck‐tank washing facility. Dana employees drain residual product from the truck’s metal tank; insert a mechanical spinner that rotates scrubbers, dousing it with soap or solvents; then rinse the tank with water. Occasionally, employees have to enter a tank and manually clean residual sludge. OSHA has regulations for entering these “permit‐required confined spaces (PRCSs),” 29 C.F.R. 1910.146: the employee must obtain an entry permit and checklist of required safety precautions; must hook a full‐body harness to a mechanical retrieval device that can pull him out of the tank; must test the tank air; and must wear a respirator and conduct continuous atmospheric testing. While an employee is in the tank, automatic blowers force fresh air into it. Another employee must be on standby. Employees may not enter a tank before it has been mechanically cleaned. Fox encountered a problem with a tank before beginning the mechanical cleaning. He entered the tank without attaching the retrieval device or following permit procedures. After a short time, another employee saw Fox unconscious in the chemical sludge and called the fire department. A TV news crew broadcast the rescue. An OSHA inspector saw it; she arrived at the facility within three hours of the accident, inspected and issued citations for serious and willful violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. An ALJ vacated some of the citation items, finding that Dana qualified for the less stringent “alternate entry procedures.” The Commission held that Dana was not eligible for the alternate entry procedures and reinstated the citation items. The Seventh Circuit rejected a petition for review. Dana did not provide a compelling reason to overturn the Commission’s determinations. View "Dana Container, Inc. v. Secretary of Labor" on Justia Law

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David, an African-American woman over the age of 40, was an employee of the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) from 1980-2012. She announced in 2011 that she planned to retire in 2012. She then requested a change in title and an increase in salary because she was performing additional responsibilities related to the implementation of a software system; she was not awarded either. CCC characterized her additional responsibilities as “lateral,” not requiring a change in title. Giving David a raise a raise over a certain amount would have resulted in a fine by the State University Retirement System. Following her retirement, her responsibilities were performed by an Asian man under the age of 40, who was paid substantially more than David. David sued, alleging that she was denied a pay increase on the basis of her race, sex, and age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621.; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; and the Equal Pay Act, 29 U.S.C. 206(d). The district court granted CCC summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the record, assessed in its entirety, does not contain sufficient evidence to permit a verdict for David on any of the counts. David’s “comparator” employees performed functions she could not perform and her announcement of her intent to retire left CCC with little motivation to respond. View "David v. Board of Trustees of Community College District 508" on Justia Law

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Wink had been employed by Miller since 1999. In July 2011, Miller granted Wink’s request for intermittent Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA, 29 U.S.C. 2612(a)(1)) leave through July 2012 to take her autistic two-year-old son to medical appointments and therapy. In February 2012, after Wink’s son was expelled from day care, Miller agreed to a hybrid arrangement. Wink could work from home two days per week, subtracting from the normal eight-hour workday the hours in which she was taking care of her son as uncompensated hours of FMLA leave time. In the summer of 2012, Miller, experiencing financial problems, decided that no employees would be allowed to work at home. On a Friday, the company gave Wink an ultimatum. On Monday, Wink reported to work, explained that she was unable to obtain day care for her son over the weekend, and left to take care of her child. She was terminated that day. A jury returned a verdict finding retaliation in violation of FMLA, violation of a Wisconsin statute, and breach of contract, but rejected a claim that Miller had interfered with Wink’s rights under FMLA. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. FMLA entitled Wink to time off necessary to care for her son. View "Wink v. Miller Compressing Co." on Justia Law

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Darden operates restaurants throughout Illinois under brand names including Olive Garden and Red Lobster. The plaintiffs worked intermittently as hourly employees at Darden-owned restaurants from 2004-2012. After quitting, they brought a proposed class action alleging that Darden failed to pay them pro rata vacation pay upon separation in violation of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, 820 ILCS 115/1-15. The district judge declined to certify their proposed class and granted Darden summary judgment on Clark’s individual claim. McMaster settled his claim with Darden, reserving the right to appeal the denial of class certification. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The proposed class definition, “All persons separated from hourly employment with [Darden] in Illinois between December 11, 2003, and the conclusion of this action[] who were subject to Darden’s Vacation Policy … and who did not receive all earned vacation pay benefits,” described an impermissible “fail safe” class, and their proposed alternative did not satisfy FRCP 23. The statute does not mandate paid time off. It merely prohibits the forfeiture of accrued earned vacation pay upon separation if the employee is otherwise eligible for paid vacation. Darden’s policy on paid vacation covered only full-time employees. Clark was ineligible because she worked part-time. View "McCaster v. Darden Restaurants, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ramirez, born in Mexico, alleges that his former employer, T&H, subjected him to discriminatory working conditions and a hostile work environment based on his national original and fired him in retaliation for reporting the harassment, in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. Nearly three years into discovery, Ramirez had not located any witnesses to corroborate his allegations. His attorney was seeking leave to withdraw. Ramirez then located three former T&H co-workers, willing to testify on his behalf. The witnesses, Hernandez, Velasquez, and Villagrana were serially deposed; all three testified that they had witnessed a supervisor refer to Ramirez as a burro. Three months later, Villagrana sent a text to Ramirez’s counsel asking for a letter “saying what percent I will receive when the case is settled.” Ramirez’s counsel reported the text to defense counsel. Villagrana also contacted a T&H employee, stating that he and the others were no longer supporting Ramirez and that he was willing to testify for T&H if he could get his job back. After hearing testimony, the district court dismissed the case with prejudice, finding “clear and convincing evidence of witness tampering.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the finding was supported by sufficient evidence and that the sanction was reasonable. View "Ramirez v. T&H Lemont, Inc." on Justia Law

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Wilson was an admissions representative, recruiting students to CEC’s culinary arts college. Wilson earned a bonus for each student that he recruited above a threshold who either completed a full course or a year of study. If a representative was terminated, he was entitled only to bonuses already earned, not including students “in the pipeline.” CEC reserved the right to “terminate or amend” the contract at any time, for any reason, in its sole discretion. The Education Department released regulations, to become effective in July 2011, prohibiting institutions participating in Title IV student financial aid programs from providing bonuses based on securing enrollment. CEC decided to pay bonuses that were earned as of February 28, 2011, depriving Wilson of bonuses that were in the pipeline. CEC raised the base salary by at least the total of 3% plus 75% of each representative’s previous two years’ bonuses. Wilson sued. The Seventh Circuit remanded, holding that Wilson must prove that CEC exercised its discretion in a manner contrary to the parties' reasonable expectations. On remand, the district court rejected an argument that cost savings, not compliance with the regulations, drove CEC’s decision. There were no cost savings to CEC. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Even accepting Wilson’s characterization, the evidence is insufficient to allow a jury to reasonably conclude that CEC breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. View "Wilson v. Career Education Corp." on Justia Law