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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

By
RiverStone had collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with the union, requiring RiverStone to contribute a specified dollar amount to specified welfare and pension funds “for each hour for which an employee receives wages under the terms of this Agreement.” RiverStone’s employees voted to decertify the union. RiverStone stopped contributing to the funds, which filed suit under 29 U.S.C. 1145, the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980, seeking payment of the contributions that would have been due under the last CBA until its 2015 expiration. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the funds. The CBA made the company’s obligations to the fund survive decertification, and a union is not the only party with standing to enforce an employer’s obligation to contribute to an employee welfare plan. Once multiemployer plans promise benefits to employees, they must pay even if the contributions they expected do not materialize, so “if some employers do not pay, others must make up the difference.” Nothing in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) makes the obligation to contribute depend on the existence of a valid CBA. The CBA became unenforceable by the union when the union was decertified, but the agreement did not cease to exist until its term ended. View "Midwest Operating Engineers Welfare Fund v. Cleveland Quarry" on Justia Law

By
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action suit against their former employer, alleging violations of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (IWPCA), and other state wage payment statutes, including the New York Labor Law and California Labor Code. They claimed that Medline’s practice of accounting for year-to-year sales declines in calculating and paying commissions was impermissible under the terms of their employment agreements and state wage laws. The district court granted Medline summary judgment, finding that plaintiffs had not performed enough work in Illinois for the IWPCA to apply and that Medline and the plaintiffs had agreed to Medline’s method of calculating commissions, so there was no violation of state wage laws. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Medline’s commission structure is consistent with the written agreements. The court rejected an argument that the structure was, nonetheless, a per se violation of New York and California labor law because it impermissibly recoups Medline’s business losses from its Sales Representatives, even when those losses are outside Sales Representatives’ control. Medline’s inclusion of negative growth in its commission calculation was not an unlawful deduction in disguise, but rather a valid means of incentivizing their salespeople to grow business in their assigned territories. View "Cohan v. Medline Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

By
Former students who participated on Penn’s women’s track and field team, regulated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sued Penn, the NCAA, and more than 120 other NCAA Division I member schools, alleging that student athletes are “employees” within the meaning of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201 and violated the FLSA by not paying their athletes a minimum wage. The district court dismissed, holding that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue any of the defendants other than Penn, and failed to state a claim against Penn because student athletes are not employees under the FLSA. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The plaintiffs did not plausibly allege any injury traceable to, or redressable by, any defendant other than Penn. Citing the Department of Labor Field Operations Handbook, the court reasoned that NCAA-regulated sports are “extracurricular,” “interscholastic athletic” activities and that the Department did not intend the FLSA to apply to student athletes. View "Berger v. National Collegiate Athletic Association" on Justia Law

By
Gracia began working on the SigmaTron assembly line in 1999. Gracia was promoted multiple times and became assembly supervisor in 2004, reporting to Silverman. In 2007, Silverman sent Gracia emails containing photographs of partially nude women in degrading poses. In 2008, he sent Gracia an email with a vulgar photo of her younger sister . Gracia did not object to Silverman and did not inform the human resources department. Gracia knew that Silverman and Executive Vice-president Fairhead (brother of the CEO), were friends; she feared retaliation. In 2008, Silverman wrote Gracia up for tardiness. Gracia had been late several times. Silverman had not previously objected to her schedule and had previously described Gracia‘s attendance as “excellent.” Gracia received late night calls from Silverman, asking her to join him at a party. A few weeks after she declined that invitation, Gracia was suspended, then reported the harassment to human resources. That department turned the matter over to Fairhead. Gracia reported to the EEOC. Weeks later, Gracia purportedly allowed the use of incorrect materials on the assembly line and was terminated. Another employee testified that no other employee had ever been fired for that common mistake and that Silverman had stated that he was out to get Gracia. Gracia sued. The jury rejected a sexual harassment claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed an award $57,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages for retaliation. View "Gracia v. SigmaTron International, Inc." on Justia Law

By
Plaintiff was supervising a BNSF crew, removing and reinstalling timber crossing planks. The crew had difficulty removing one plank, and with plaintiff’s approval, used a front‐end loader, which caused the plank to fly loose as plaintiff was walking on the track and to strike his leg. Days later he went to his doctor and learned that he had fractured his tibia. After first stating that he had been injured at home, on advice of his union, plaintiff told his supervisor, Veitz, about the injury. BNSF paid his medical bills and, pursuant to its policy, staged a reenactment and concluded that plaintiff had been careless. Later, a crew member told Veitz that he thought plaintiff was injured 10 days before the incident, while removing railroad ties from railroad property. Pursuant to its collective bargaining agreement, BNSF investigated. For his carelessness in the front-loader incident (which cost it medical expenses), BNSF imposed a 30-day suspension, but discharged plaintiff for the theft. Veitz testified that he had not given plaintiff permission to take ties, which are soaked in creosote. BNSF does not give or sell creosote products to employees or the public because of potential hazards The National Railroad Adjustment Board and OSHA denied plaintiff’s appeals. A jury awarded plaintiff damages under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, which forbids a railroad to discriminate against an employee for reporting a work-related injury, 49 U.S.C. 20109(a). The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding no evidence that the firing was related to the injury report. The company has a firm policy of firing employees discovered to have stolen company property. View "Koziara v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

By
Plaintiff, a customer service representative, was in an automobile accident in 2011, after which she used a cane and limped. She was fired in 2012, allegedly because of a perceived disability that had required her to take time off and to use her health insurance. Represented by counsel, she filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, citing failure to submit a charge of discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within the 300-day statutory deadline, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-5(e)(1), (f)(1). Six months after being fired she had filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) a “Complainant Information Sheet” (CIS). A charge filed with IDHR is automatically cross-filed with EEOC. Despite the EEOC amicus curiae brief, arguing that the CIS was the equivalent of a charge, the court concluded that it was not. A charge is the administrative equivalent of a judicial complaint; a CIS is not unless it asks for relief. Without such a request the CIS is a pre-charge screening form, which does not prompt IDHR to notify the employer, launch an investigation, or sponsor mediation. Although the CIS form does say that IDHR will cross-file the complainant’s “charge of discrimination” with EEOC, it also says “THIS IS NOT A CHARGE,” followed by the statement that “if IDHR accepts your claim, we will send you a charge form for signature.” View "Carlson v. Christian Brothers Services" on Justia Law

By
Dr. Wesbrook, a former employee of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, sued Dr. Belongia, a former colleague, and Dr. Ulrich, the chief executive officer of the Marshfield Clinic. Wesbrook claimed that Belongia and Ulrich tortiously interfered with his at-will employment, engineering his termination by publishing defamatory statements about him to the Marshfield Clinic board of directors. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The defendants’ statements about the plaintiff were true or substantially true and therefore privileged. Wesbrook’s time with the Clinid was marked by conflict and complaints about his “management style.” The statements concerned those conflicts and complaints. Under Wisconsin law, an at-will employee cannot recover from former co-workers and supervisors for tortious interference on the basis of their substantially truthful statements made within the enterprise, no matter the motives underlying those statements. View "Wesbrook v. Ulrich" on Justia Law

By
In 2014, Lend Lease, the construction manager of the Chicago River Point Tower Project, hired Cives as a subcontractor. Cives hired Midwest Steel. Midwest had, years before, hired AES to supply Midwest with additional workers, who were co‐employed by Midwest and AES. Lend Lease entered into a “contractor-controlled insurance program” with Starr Liability with a $500,000 deductible. All subcontractors were to join in the policy. AES had, several years earlier, obtained workers’ compensation for its workers from TIC, so that injured AES‐Midwest workers could obtain workers’ compensation from either Starr (or Lend Lease under the deductible) or TIC. Four ironworkers, jointly employed by Midwest and AES and performing work for Midwest were injured on the job and sought workers’ compensation. The claims exceeded $500,000, so Lend Lease had to pay its full deductible. Starr paid the remaining claims. Lend Lease filed suit against TIC, AES’s insurer, and AES, seeking reimbursement of the $500,000. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Lend Lease made a deal with Starr and is bound by it. The court rejected an argument that AES has been unjustly enriched; AES was not obligated to purchase an insurance policy that would cover Lend Lease's deductible. View "Lend Lease (US) Construction, Inc. v. Administrative Employer Services, Inc." on Justia Law

By
For weekday shifts, Antioch Rescue (ARS) used paid EMTs through subcontracts with private ambulance companies. For evening and weekend shifts, ARS used unpaid volunteers. Volling began as an unpaid EMT in 2008. In 2010, she transitioned to paid shifts under ARS and Metro. Springer began working for ARS and Metro in 2009. In 2011, Volling filed charges with the EEOC, alleging sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation; she later filed suit, alleging violation of the Emergency Medical Services Act, including physical abuse of patients and on-duty alcohol and drug abuse. Volling’s report to the Illinois Department of Public Health resulted in fines and EMT license suspensions. Plaintiffs also spoke at public meetings. Springer filed a supporting declaration in Volling’s lawsuit and assisted in the investigation. ARS terminated its subcontract with Metro, replacing Metro with Kurtz. Kurtz immediately began hiring former Metro EMTs, without publicizing its vacancies. ARS instructed every former Metro EMT—except plaintiffs— on how to apply under the new contract. Kurtz asked ARS for the former Metro EMTs’ contact information. ARS and Kurtz rehired every other Metro EMT. Plaintiffs filed suit under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e–3(a), and the Illinois Human Rights and the Illinois Whistleblower Acts. ARS settled with plaintiffs. The district court granted Kurtz’s motion to dismiss. The Seventh Circuit reversed as to Title VII and IHRA. Plaintiffs adequately pled both an adverse employment action and a causal link between that action and their protected activity. View "Volling v. Kurtz Paramedic Services, Inc." on Justia Law

By
At the Stockton, California inland seaport, FedEx employs 50 truck drivers and 27 dockworkers, who use forklifts to load and unload trucks. A Teamsters Local wanted to organize the drivers. FedEx argued that the local should also represent the dockworkers because the drivers and the dockworkers share a community of interest. The NLRB concluded that a drivers-only unit was proper and submitted the issue to a secret-ballot election of the drivers, who voted to be represented by the union. The Seventh Circuit affirmed certification of the bargaining unit, citing 29 U.S.C. 159(a). The court noted the dissimilarity in working conditions; drivers work full time, dockworkers only part time; drivers are paid about twice as much as and have better benefits than dockworkers though they have less-strenuous, safer work. The court characterized dockworkers as “second‐class citizens" of the Stockton employment force and stated that “it is evident that the community of interest between the truck drivers and the dockworkers not only is in no sense overwhelming but in fact is slight, owing to the differences in working conditions and benefits between the two types of worker and the undeniable danger of strife between the drivers and the dockworkers should they be placed in the same bargaining unit.” View "Nat'l Labor Relations Bd. v. FedEx Freight, Inc." on Justia Law