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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Tracking a fugitive, Deputy Marshal Linder interrogated the fugitive’s father. Another deputy saw Linder punch the father. Linder was indicted for witness tampering and using excessive force and was put on leave. McPherson, the U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Illinois, instructed other deputies not to communicate with Linder or his lawyers without approval. The indictment was dismissed as a sanction. Linder returned to work. Linder filed a “Bivens action,” against McPherson and a suit against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b). The district court dismissed all of Linder’s claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed against the government alone. Section 2680(a) provides that the Act does not apply to “[a]ny claim ... based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or an employee of the Government, whether or not the discretion involved be abused.” In deciding when federal employees needed permission to talk with Linder or his lawyer, McPherson exercised a discretionary function. The court rejected arguments that the discretionary function exemption does not apply to malicious prosecution suits. “Congress might have chosen to provide financial relief to all persons who are charged with crimes but never convicted. The Federal Tort Claims Act does not do this.” View "Linder v. McPherson" on Justia Law

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The named plaintiffs are Hispanic or Latino individuals who applied for employment as line workers at Ford’s Chicago assembly plant but were not hired. Millender is a black Ford employee and the Chairman of the United Auto Workers union for the plant. The plaintiffs allege a conspiracy between Millender, the Harvey unemployment office, and unknown Ford employees, to ensure that the plant predominantly hired black employees to the exclusion of Hispanic and Latino applicants. Millender allegedly believed black employees would be more likely to support him as a union leader. This resulted in a dearth of Hispanic and Latino workers, despite a sizable minority of Hispanic and Latino people in the surrounding area. The complaint alleges line workers at the plant are hired exclusively through the Harvey unemployment office. The district court dismissed the suit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, holding the claims were not “like or reasonably related to” claims asserted in their EEOC charges. The Seventh Circuit vacated as to Count II; those claims were properly exhausted before the EEOC. Count II describes conduct that is consistent with the conduct described in the charges, alleging a disparate impact upon Hispanic and Latino applicants caused by the skills test, and implicates the same individuals. Count I’s new claims of pre-test discrimination are not included in the EEOC charges and are incongruent with the allegations in the charges. View "Chaidez v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Rozumalski started out as a water resources engineer at Baird’s Madison, Wisconsin, office in 2010.Rozumalski was sexually harassed by her direct supervisor, Riedel. When Rozumalski reported the harassment to her employer, Baird, the company responded by swiftly investigating the incident and firing Riedel in 2012. Rozumalski claims that Baird dismissed her in 2014 in retaliation for her role in Riedel’s firing, in retaliation for complaining about her supervisor’s continued friendship with Riedel, or as a result of sex discrimination. The district court rejected her claims on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While it may be possible for workplace harassment to haunt a victim’s ability to succeed long after the incident, the facts that Rozumalski has presented do not support a finding of retaliation or of discrimination. The court noted that Rozumalski conceded that the company found her work deficient and that she had been placed on an improvement plan. View "Rozumalski v. W.F. Baird & Associates, Ltd." on Justia Law

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During his probationary employment period, Smith challenged and failed to follow directions, was confrontational, engaged in unsafe conduct, and received unsatisfactory evaluations. He filed internal and union complaints, alleging abusive language, docking his hours, and racial discrimination. The Illinois Department of Transportation discharged Smith. Smith sued the Department under Title VII, arguing that it had subjected him to a hostile work environment and fired him in retaliation for his complaints about racial discrimination. The district court granted the Department summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court was within its discretion in concluding that Smith’s expert witness testimony was inadmissible as not based on “sufficient facts or data” under Federal Rule of Evidence 702(b). An affidavit sworn by one of Smith’s supervisors was inadmissible because it lacked a proper foundation and was “replete with generalized assertions." Given the extensive evidence that Smith was not meeting his employer’s legitimate expectations, a reasonable jury could not find that the Department fired him because of his protected activity rather than for his poor performance nor could a reasonable jury have resolved the hostile work environment claim in Smith’s favor. View "Smith v. Illinois Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Gupta joined Morgan Stanley and signed an employment agreement containing an arbitration clause; an employee dispute resolution program (CARE) applied to all U.S. employees. The CARE program did not then require employees to arbitrate employment discrimination claims but stated that the program “may change.” In 2015, Morgan Stanley amended its CARE program to compel arbitration for all employment-related disputes, including discrimination claims, and sent an email to each U.S. employee, with links to the new arbitration agreement and a revised CARE guidebook. The email attached a link to the arbitration agreement opt-out form and set an opt-out deadline, stating that, if the employee did not opt-out, continued employment would reflect that the employee agreed to the arbitration agreement and CARE guidebook and that opting out would not adversely affect employment status. Gupta did not submit an opt-out form or respond to the email. He continued to work at Morgan Stanley for two years until, he alleges, the company forced him to resign because of military leave. Gupta sued for discrimination and retaliation under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, 38 U.S.C. 4301–35. The court agreed with that Illinois law permits an offeror to construe silence as acceptance if circumstances make it reasonable to do so; based on pretrial evidence, Gupta could not dispute he received the email. The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order compelling arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, finding the existence of a written agreement to arbitrate, a dispute within the scope of that agreement, and a refusal to arbitrate. View "Gupta v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC" on Justia Law

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Yochim worked in HUD's legal department for 26 years. Throughout her tenure, she took advantage of HUD’s flexible policy permitting employees to work from home several days per week. After undergoing hand surgery, Yochim requested time off and permission to work from home. HUD agreed and allowed her time to recover and to telework several days a week for many months as she received physical therapy. HUD later restructured its law department, with the effect of requiring employees to spend more time in the office. The restructuring, combined with Yochim’s performance deficiencies, led HUD to revoke her telework privileges and offer alternative accommodations. In the meantime, Yochim lodged two complaints with the EEOC, claiming that HUD discriminated and retaliated against her by failing to promote her and, separately, to accommodate her need for ongoing rehabilitation. Yochim retired from HUD once she became eligible to do so, then filed suit, citing the Rehabilitation Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of HUD. Although Yochim had established that she was a qualified person with a disability, no reasonable jury could find that the Department had failed to offer reasonable accommodations. Yochim did not establish that HUD retaliated against her or subjected her to a hostile work environment. View "Yochim v. Carson" on Justia Law

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O’Donnell learned that her employer paid her less than her male peers and raised the issue with company officials, stating that she was going to file an EEOC complaint. O’Donnell shared a desk with her supervisor. She discovered performance evaluations of her male colleagues, which, she believed, confirmed that men were paid more for substantially the same work. She made copies and prepared to submit them to the EEOC. After learning that O’Donnell took other employees’ performance reports without authorization, the company suspended and ultimately terminated her. O’Donnell filed suit, alleging sex-based wage discrimination under the Equal Pay Act (29 U.S.C. 206(d)); sex discrimination under Title VII (42 U.S.C. 2000); Retaliation under Title VII; and Retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. 215(a)(3)). The district court administered instructions based on the Seventh Circuit's Model Instructions. The jury returned a verdict for the employer. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting O’Donnell’s claims that the jury instructions and the verdict forms incorrectly instructed the jury on the law and were confusing to the jury; that the court improperly allowed the company to assert an affirmative defense based on her previous salary amounts without raising that defense in its answer; and that the court erred by excluding expert testimony on damages from a forensic economist. View "O'Donnell v. Caine Weiner Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Hudson, a 39-year employee of Consolidated Communications, was discharged due to strike-related misconduct. Hudson had blocked a company vehicle while moving in traffic during the strike. Following an appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court, the National Labor Relations Board issued a supplemental decision concluding that Consolidated did not violate the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 158(a)(3). The Board found that Hudson’s actions were calculated to intimidate the non-striking employees and were inherently dangerous. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting the union’s argument that Hudson’s conduct was not intended to intimidate or endanger the Consolidated employees and that she only intended to follow them to set up an ambulatory picket. That suggestion is belied by the fact that she was following them from the front and purposely impeded their progress. These acts illustrate a thorough plan to do more than follow the work vehicle and are not “animal exuberance” which the Board can and does excuse. View "Local 702, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The Parish hired Sterlinski in 1992 as Director of Music. In 2014 the Parish’s priest demoted Sterlinski to the job of organist and in 2015 fired him outright. Sterlinski contends that the Parish held his Polish heritage against him. Until his demotion he could have been fired for any reason, because as Director of Music he held substantial authority over the conduct of religious services and would have been treated as a “minister.” Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not apply to ministers. Sterlinski claims that as an organist, he was just “robotically playing the music that he was given” and could not be treated as a minister. The district court disagreed and granted summary judgment to the Bishop. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Organ playing serves a religious function in the life of the Parish. The court stated: “If the Roman Catholic Church believes that organ music is vital to its religious services, and that to advance its faith it needs the ability to select organists, who are we judges to disagree?” View "Sterlinski v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Lavite, a combat veteran, works in the Administration Building of Madison County, Illinois, as superintendent for the County’s Veterans Assistance Commission. In 2015, Madison County officials banned Lavite from the Administration Building indefinitely after learning that Lavite had experienced a PTSD episode during which he threatened a police officer and then kicked out the windows of a squad car. The ban lasted for nearly 20 months. Lavite kept his job but had to work remotely. Lavite had previously resisted efforts to use funds from the Commission’s budget for other county needs. Before the ban was lifted, Lavite filed suit. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Lavite’s right to assemble on government property was not violated because the ban on his presence in the building was viewpoint-neutral and reasonably motivated by legitimate safety concerns. None of the evidence supports a reasonable inference of causation between the ban imposed on Lavite in 2015 and his 2013 objections to the proposals to divert some of his Commission’s budget to other purposes. Lavite, having no alleged liberty or property interest, did not establish any due process violation. View "Lavite v. Dunstan" on Justia Law