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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Downing, an African-American woman, had significant sales experience when she was hired in 2002 by Abbott. In 2009 she became one of four Regional Sales Managers. Abbott came under financial pressure in 2012 and reduced its workforce. Downing’s new director, Farmakis, included detailed criticisms in Downing’s 2013 review. Downing and another employee reported to Abbott’s Employee Relations Department that Farmakis was discriminating based on race and gender. Farmakis was coached to improve his management style. Throughout 2013, Abbott’s business faltered, resulting in layoffs and realignment of its sales teams. Abbott placed Downing on a performance improvement plan, the last step before termination. Downing then retained counsel and gave notice that she intended to file discrimination claims. Abbott cut Downing’s stock award in 2014. Downing filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC. Abbott had another reduction in force in 2015. All four Regional Sales Manager lost their jobs when that position was eliminated. Farmakis was also terminated. Abbott invited Downing to apply for the position of Regional Commercial Director. Abbott did not select Downing or Farmakis and ultimately hired an African-American man.Downing filed suit under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a judgment in favor of Abbot, rejecting challenges to evidentiary rulings, the exclusion of Downing’s expert witness, the jury instructions, the testimony of her former manager, and the sufficiency of the evidence for her disparate-impact claim. View "Downing v. Abbott Laboratories" on Justia Law

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Vanegas, a Mexican citizen, was hired by Signet, a nationwide construction company, to work in the U.S. on an H-2A guestworker visa, which authorizes foreign workers to perform “agricultural” work in the U.S. on a temporary basis, if the proposed employer can show that there are too few domestic workers willing and able to do the work and that the use of guest-workers will not undercut local workers’ wages and working conditions, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a); 1188(a)(1). Vanegas was assigned to build livestock structures on farms in Wisconsin and Indiana. He routinely worked more than 40 hours a week, but Signet did not pay him extra for his overtime hours.He filed a complaint under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and moved for conditional certification of a collective action on behalf of all Signet H-2A workers who were exclusively assigned to construction work. The district court dismissed, finding that Vanegas was an agricultural worker, exempt from FLSA’s overtime protections, 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(1). The Seventh Circuit reversed. Work falls within the FLSA agricultural exemption only if it is both “performed by a farmer or on a farm” and if it “does not amount to an independent business.” Regulations establish a fact-intensive, totality-of-the-circumstances test to determine whether work performed on a farm is agricultural or is an independent business. Signet did not prove that the agricultural exemption applies. View "Vanegas v. Signet Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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Innovel hired Diakon to take furniture from warehouses to customers’ homes. Plaintiffs, two of Diakon's drivers, were citizens of Illinois who drove out of Innovel’s Illinois warehouses and made deliveries to customers in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. They signed “Service Agreements” that classify the drivers as independent contractors yet include detailed expectations for the drivers, covering uniforms, business cards, truck decals, and how to perform deliveries and installations. The Agreements select Virginia law to govern the parties’ relations and authorize Diakon to deduct fees and penalties from the drivers’ pay for truck rental fees, insurance, workers’ compensation coverage, damaged merchandise, and customers’ refused deliveries.Plaintiffs sued, alleging that Diakon misclassified them as independent contractors when they were employees under Illinois law. Illinois courts apply a three-part test to determine employee status, which is more likely to classify workers as employees than is Virginia law, which would treat the plaintiffs as contractors. The Illinois Wage Payment and Collections Act allows deductions from pay only if the employee consents in writing at the time of the deduction.The district judge certified a class but ruled in favor of Diakon. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The plaintiffs’ claims arise from their work in Illinois, not from their contracts. The Illinois Act governs payment for work in Illinois regardless of what state’s law governs other aspects of the parties' relations. View "Timothy Johnson v. Diakon Logistics, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2014, Cooperative, a Wisconsin-based governmental entity that services 35 public-school districts, hired Simon as an Alternative Program Lead Teacher at REACH Academy. Simon taught, managed paraprofessionals, developed integrated education plans, and communicated with parents, school districts, social workers, and law enforcement officials. In 2016, a student kicked a door into Simon’s head, which caused a concussion. Simon took Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave and was cleared to return to full-time work with no restrictions weeks later. Cooperative did not allow Simon to return to her previous position, having determined that doing so would present an “unreasonable risk.” Cooperative placed her in a support position with duties resembling those of a paraprofessional and requiring her to split her time between schools. Although Simon received the same salary and benefits in her new role, it involved significantly less responsibility, independence, and discretion.The district court found that Cooperative had violated the FMLA by not returning Simon to an equivalent position following her leave and that only declaratory—rather than injunctive—relief was appropriate based on Cooperative’s hiring trends, the unavailability of Simon’s previous role, and Simon’s new job elsewhere, and awarded Simon attorney’s fees of $59,773.62. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The FMLA’s use of the term “equitable relief” encompasses declaratory relief. Simon suffered prejudice from Cooperative’s failure to return her to an equivalent position. The district court did not err in finding that attorney’s fees were available under the circumstances. View "Simon v. Cooperative Educational Service Agency #5" on Justia Law

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Some jobs at Walmart Distribution Center #6025, required workers to handle boxes weighing 30 pounds or more. Walmart's “Temporary Alternate Duty” Policy (TAD) offered light duty to those workers injured on the job who wanted to keep working and earning their full wages while complying with any relevant medical restrictions. Walmart says it designed the TAD Policy to reduce overall costs, including for Workers' Compensation, while improving employee morale. During the relevant time period, Walmart did not offer light duty, under the TAD Policy or otherwise, to pregnant workers or to workers who were injured off the job. Pregnant workers with lifting or other physical restrictions related to pregnancy had to go on leave. After hotly-contested discovery and related sanctions, the court granted Walmart summary judgment in the EEOC's suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e(k), 2000e-2(a)(1).The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Walmart offers evidence that the purpose of the TAD Policy is to implement a worker’s compensation program that benefits Walmart’s employees while limiting the company’s “legal exposure” and costs of hiring people to replace injured workers; compliance with a state workers’ compensation scheme is a neutral reason for providing benefits to employees injured on the job but not pregnant employees.The court upheld the imposition of discovery sanctions. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P." on Justia Law

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The NPWU previously represented the plaintiffs, Parsec employees, participating in the NPWU’s retirement multiemployer defined-contribution plans. A lawsuit brought by the Department of Labor settled, requiring the Severance Plan to pay back loans and approving the Plan’s administrators and its third-party accounting firm, Krol. Parsec employees later voted to decertify the NPWU and elect the Teamsters as their new bargaining representative. The Teamsters told Parsec employees that their retirement accounts would roll over to the Teamsters’ plan. NPWU stated that the retirement accounts would become inactive but remain under NPWU control. After the election, Parsec stopped contributing to the NPWU plan and began contributing to the Teamsters’ plan. Parsec employees’ accounts became inactive but remained under NPWU control. Plaintiffs alleged excessive expenses, undisclosed payments to NPWU officers and their relatives, and high salaries. Plaintiffs requested copies of documents, to which they were entitled under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Plans responded but did not provide certain documents, including a “summary plan description” for the 401(k) Plan, which did not exist. Plaintiffs sent several letters requesting that the Plans roll over their accounts to the Teamsters’ plan. The Plans refused.Plaintiffs filed a putative class action. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Plans terms did not require rollover and the allegations failed to show that the trustees breached their fiduciary duties. View "Dean v. National Production Workers Union, Local 707" on Justia Law

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After IAC signed an Employment Agreement with Roston making him its CEO, the relationship soured. Roston disagreed with his employer about the value of his stock appreciation rights. He became the CEO of Bluecrew, another affiliate of IAC’s parent company, but the employment relationship deteriorated until Roston was terminated. His former employers later discovered that Roston had retained a company laptop, documents, and confidential data. The companies sought declarations that Roston was not entitled to more payments based on the stock appreciation rights and was not wrongfully terminated and alleged breach of contract.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint by an Illinois district court, citing the forum non conveniens doctrine. The district court balanced the relevant public interest factors reasonably and noted little local Illinois interest. The Employment Agreement stated that it “shall be governed by and construed under and in accordance with the internal laws of the State of California without reference to its principles of conflicts of laws. Any such dispute will be heard and determined before an appropriate federal court located in the State of California in Alameda County … each party hereto submits itself and its property to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the foregoing courts with respect to such disputes. Roston had filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court, alleging wrongful termination. View "IAC/InterActiveCorp v. Roston" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit denied Petitioner's petition for review of the judgment of the Department of Labor's Administrative Review Board (ARB) affirming an administrative law judge's (ALJ) determination that BNSF Railway Company had a valid same-action affirmative defense to Plaintiff's retaliation claim, holding that substantial evidence supported the decision.Plaintiff, a train engineer, brought an administrative complaint with the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) alleging that BNSF, his employer, violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act by retaliating against him for raising safety concerns and refusing to engage in unsafe practices. OSHA dismissed the complaint. A Department of Labor ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim based on the statutory same-action affirmative defense. The ARB affirmed. The Seventh Circuit denied review, holding that substantial evidence supported the ARB's decision that the same-action defense applied to BNSF's discipline of Plaintiff. View "Brousil v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, Administrative Review Board" on Justia Law

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In this dispute over Plaintiff's employment status the Seventh Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court granting Defendant's motion to dismiss all claims on the pleadings, holding that the district court erred by giving decisive effect to the terms of Defendant's contracts.Plaintiff hauled freight for Defendant under an agreement that labeled him as an independent contractor. Plaintiff later filed this lawsuit claiming that Defendant violated minimum wage requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Wisconsin law, unjustly enriched itself under Wisconsin law, and violated federal Truth-in-Leasing regulations. The district court dismissed all claims on the pleadings. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that Plaintiff alleged legally viable claims for relief under the FLSA, federal Truth-in-Leasing regulations, and Wisconsin minimum wage law. View "Brant v. Schneider National, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court entering summary judgment to Defendants and dismissing this complaint brought by Plaintiff, the former general counsel for Chicago State University, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its rulings.Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against several University defendants alleging that the University fired him in retaliation for reporting a potential conflict of interest in violation of the First Amendment and Illinois's State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and that Defendants violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by not paying him severance pay. The district court entered summary judgment for Defendants. The Seventh District affirmed, holding that Plaintiff's actions fell outside the Ethics Act and that Plaintiff's speech lacked protection under the First Amendment. View "Cage v. Harper" on Justia Law