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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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A CTA bus passenger threatened Pickett, the driver. He took six months off from work while recovering. After his physician concluded that he could return to work (though not as a driver), Pickett requested a light-duty job. He was given one but four days later he was told that the CTA was not ready to permit his return to work. Pickett had been told that before returning to work he needed to complete a (provided) form and report to CTA’s Leave Management Services office, which would administer tests (including a drug screen). He ignored those directions until 2017. He was then approved for work and retired five days later. Before visiting Leave Management Services in 2017 he had filed an EEOC charge of age discrimination, claiming that during 2015 he saw persons younger than himself doing light-duty tasks. After receiving his right-to-sue letter, Pickett sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621–34. The district court granted the CTA summary judgment after denying Pickett’s request for appointed counsel without explanation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court’s failure to explain its decision was harmless error. Pickett has not shown how a lawyer could have helped him overcome his biggest obstacle: he never took the steps that CTA told him were essential. View "Lawrence Pickett v. Chicago Transit Authority" on Justia Law

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Guerrero was trying to drive to his job at BNSF Railway through a snowstorm early one morning. His car skidded, collided with a snowplow, and he was killed. His widow sought compensatory damages from BNSF under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA, 45 U.S.C. 51–59). The district court ruled in favor of BNSF. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Stating that the question of whether Guerrero was within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred was a close one, the court declined to resolve the issue. Guerrero was not heading to his normal job, but had accepted a special assignment; his union contract provides that “the time of an employee who is called after release from duty to report for work will begin at the time called.” Looking at the evidence favorably to Guerrero, he was not commuting, but was “on the clock” and working on the special assignment. No jury, however, could find that BNSF was negligent in any action it took or failed to take with respect to Guerrero. FELA does not make the employer the insurer of the safety of his employees while they are on duty. The only action BNSF took was to ask Guerrero to come to work under conditions known to both parties. View "Guerrero v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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University Park’s mayor and board fired police chief Bradley without any notice of good cause or any form of hearing, in violation of his employment contract. Bradley sued the village and mayor under 42 U.S.C.1983 for violating his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of Bradley’s due process claim on the pleadings. The parties agreed that Bradley had a protected property interest in his continued employment; that the mayor and the village board are the policymakers for their municipality; and that although there was ample opportunity for a hearing, Bradley received no pre-termination notice or hearing. Those points of agreement suffice to prove a section 1983 due process claim against the individual officials and the village, where the village acted through high-ranking officials with policymaking authority. The court rejected the defense’s argument, based on cases that excuse liability for the absence of pre-deprivation due process if the deprivation is the result of a “random, unauthorized act by a state employee, rather than an established state procedure,” and “if a meaningful post-deprivation remedy for the loss is available.” The court reasoned that such a broad reading of precedent would effectively impose an “exhaustion of remedies” requirement that has been rejected by the Supreme Court. View "Bradley v. Village of University Park" on Justia Law

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Collins was a tenured professor at the University. A faculty committee found that Collins had misused grant money by purchasing equipment other than that in his grant proposals and using the equipment for personal purposes and concluded that his actions warranted “dismissal for serious cause” under the Academic Articles incorporated in Collins’s faculty contract. After an internal review, Notre Dame’s president dismissed Collins. Before criminal charges were filed against him, Collins filed suit, alleging breach of contract. Before his guilty plea, the district court granted Collins summary judgment on liability, finding that Notre Dame breached the contract by allowing one faculty member to both play a role in informal mediation and then serve on the hearing committee. The court did not decide whether the committee’s findings amounted to sufficient cause to dismiss a tenured faculty member. After Collins’s 2013 guilty plea to a federal felony charge for theft of government grant funds in this same conduct, Notre Dame re‐instituted Collins’s adjudication and dismissed him again. After the guilty plea, the court reaffirmed its earlier breach of contract finding, held a trial on damages, and awarded Collins $501,367, calculated as his lost compensation from his June 2010 dismissal until his February 2013 conviction. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The contract did not prohibit one faculty member from participating in informal mediation and then serving on the hearing committee and the undisputed facts show “serious cause” sufficient to warrant Collins’s dismissal. View "Collins v. University of Notre Dame Du Lac" on Justia Law

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Clark was badly injured as he was getting off a car-crushing machine--a mobile RB6000 Logger/Baler--which was used by his employer, Thornton Auto Crushing. He sued both the crusher’s manufacturer, Sierra, and the company that had leased it to Thornton, River Metals, asserting that they were liable to him under Illinois tort law because it was defectively designed. The district court granted summary judgment in both defendants’ favor after striking the testimony from Clark’s expert. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court’s decision to exclude the testimony represented a reasonable assessment of the proposed evidence. It found the expert’s methodology to be unclear and conclusory. There was no need for a hearing; the report was just five pages long, including the expert’s discussion of the facts, his description of the machine, and his recitation of the Operator’s Manual. His analysis covers one page and misstates a standard concerning equipment safeguards. The case was not one that could be decided based on common experience. View "Clark v. River Metals Recycling, LLC" on Justia Law

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Fields, an African-American woman, was an Edgebrook teacher since 2002. Weiden became Edgebrook’s principal in 2013; he required teachers to submit lesson plans. He informed Fields that her plans were too scripted. During observations, he noted often that Fields’s teaching was disconnected from her lesson plans and that students were not engaged. Fields refused assistance. Chicago Public Schools rated Fields’s job performance as “developing.” Fields did not attend an evening “open house” and did not inform the administration that she would not attend and did not attend a mandatory “professional development session.” Fields did not submit timely field trip forms and did not attend a “principal‐directed preparation period.” She failed to turn in lesson plans and failed to properly notify the school about requested leave. When Fields accrued three performance improvement plans, she faced possible disciplinary action. In mediation, the Board suggested that Fields could retire with a “do not rehire” designation. Fields received no discipline but took a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act. She retired in 2016 at age 63, without returning to work. Fields sued Weiden and the Board of Education for racial and age discrimination, with a retaliation claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. Fields could not show that she suffered an adverse employment action; she was not constructively discharged. She did not establish that anything other than job performance was behind the defendants’ actions. View "Fields v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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American Airlines hired Bilinsky in 1991. Bilinsky contracted multiple sclerosis (MS) in the late 1990s. In 2007 she became a communications specialist in the Flight Service Department, located in Dallas. According to Bilinsky’s medical records, excessive heat aggravates her MS, so American permitted Bilinsky to work from Chicago. She usually traveled to Dallas one day per week for tasks that required a physical presence. Bilinsky performed successfully for several years. American merged with US Airways in 2013. Under the new circumstances, the company decided to require all employees to be physically present at headquarters. This decision affected two other employees: one relocated to Dallas, but the other refused and was terminated. Negotiations between American and Bilinsky collapsed; American terminated Bilinsky. The district court, on summary judgment, rejected Bilinsky’s Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. 12111) lawsuit, finding that Bilinsky was no longer qualified for the position because of the changes in her responsibilities. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although the change was slow and was not reflected in a written job description, the merger fundamentally changed the position’s nature. Consistent, physical presence became an essential function at some point after 2013. Bilinsky’s team evolved from working on independent activities (curating website content, responding to written questions, etc.) to team‐centered crisis management activities, involving frequent face‐to‐face meetings on short notice. View "Bilinsky v. American Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law

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Orland Park fired police officer McGreal in 2010. McGreal sued, alleging that his termination was retaliation for remarks he made community board meeting. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, finding that McGreal had advanced only speculation to support his claims. McGreal had more than 70 disciplinary complaints on his record. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for attorney fees and directed McGreal’s attorney, DeRose, to pay the defendants $66,191.75 to the defendants--the cost incurred because DeRose fought the defense's summary judgment motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Defense counsel had repeatedly requested that DeRose end the litigation, pointing out the lack of evidence, and had threatened Rule 11 sanctions. DeRose’s summary judgment filings were not well grounded in fact or warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law. Discovery revealed an utter lack of evidentiary support for McGreal’s claims, but DeRose defended against summary judgment anyway. View "McGreal v. Village of Orland Park" on Justia Law

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Freeman, an African-American, began as an "at will" probationary treatment plant operator, collecting and transporting water samples across the mile-long plant. Although operators typically transport these samples in District-owned vehicles, the job description does not require a driver’s license. Three months after Freeman was hired, he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, His license was suspended for six months. Freeman began seeing a substance-abuse counselor. As required by his contract, he told the District about the license suspension and his counseling. He bought a bike and a cooler to transport samples and asked whether he could use a go-cart, which does not require a driver’s license on private property. The District refused to approve a state-approved occupational driving permit that would permit him to drive a company vehicle while working. The District fired Freeman, asserting “unsatisfactory performance.” Freeman alleges that the real reason for his firing was his race and because the District regarded him as an alcoholic. Each of four court-recruited attorneys moved to withdraw. The court dismissed his claims of race and disability discrimination and of retaliation, 42 U.S.C. 1981, 1983; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2; and under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12112. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part. Freeman adequately pleaded his discrimination claims. The court affirmed with respect to Freeman’s Monell contention that the District fired him pursuant to an unlawful policy. View "Freeman v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago" on Justia Law

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Under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, before obtaining any fingerprint, a “private entity” must provide the subject or “the subject’s legally authorized representative” with certain written information and obtain the consent of the subject or authorized representative, 740 ILCS 14/15(b). The private entity must make available to the public a protocol for retaining and handling biometric data and follow rules regarding the destruction of the data. Private entities must protect biometric information from disclosure. Both Southwest and United Airlines maintain timekeeping systems that require workers to clock in and out with their fingerprints. Plaintiffs contend that the airlines implemented these systems in violation of the Act. The airlines contend that the plaintiffs’ unions consented. Plaintiffs argued that a judge should resolve their contentions. The airlines claimed that resolution belongs to an adjustment board under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. 151–88, which applies to air carriers. The Seventh Circuit held that dispute about the interpretation or administration of a collective bargaining agreement must be resolved by an adjustment board under the RLA. Unions in the air transportation business are the workers’ exclusive bargaining agents. Illinois cannot and did not remove a topic from the union’s purview. Its statute provides that a worker or an authorized agent may receive necessary notices and provide consent. Whether the unions did consent or grant authority through a management-rights clause, is a question for an adjustment board. View "Miller v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law