Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Mourning worked for Ternes from 1997 until the company fired her in 2013. In February 2013, Frey, Mourning’s manager, granted Mourning leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. 2615, to treat her encephalopathy. Mourning returned to work less than two months later. While Mourning was on leave, eight of her 10 subordinates submitted an internal complaint, alleging that Mourning intimidated and publicly humiliated them, acted unpredictably, and micromanaged her team. Before that submission, Mourning had never been the subject of a written complaint, nor had she ever been disciplined. Frey had rated Mourning’s performance as above “exceptional,” at her last evaluation in May 2012. Upon her return from leave, Mourning responded with a written rebuttal and her own internal complaint against the staff. A client indicated that Mourning’s “performance was not up to his standards.” The company fired Frey and Mourning. The company promoted another female to Mourning’s position. Mourning sued, alleging discrimination based on her sex (Title VII, 2 U.S.C. 2000e-2), and retaliation for taking medical leave. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment rejecting Mourning’s claims. Mourning did not have any direct evidence of sex discrimination nor did she produce evidence from which it could be inferred that she was meeting legitimate expectations, she was similarly situated to a more favorably treated employee, or that the reason for firing her was pretextual. View "Mourning v. Ternes Packaging, Indiana, Inc" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, African-Americans, worked for Union Pacific as “Signal Helpers,” an entry‐level job. After a probationary period, both became eligible for promotion. Union Pacific did not respond to their requests to take a required test, then eliminated the Signal Helper position in their zones. Both were terminated. They filed charges with the EEOC. After receiving notification from the EEOC, Union Pacific provided some information but failed to respond to a request for company-wide information, despite issuance of a subpoena. The EEOC issued right‐to‐sue letters, 42 U.S.C. 2000e‐5(f)(1). Plaintiffs sued. The district court granted Union Pacific summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While that action was pending, the EEOC issued Union Pacific a second request for information, served a second subpoena, and brought an enforcement action. The district court denied Union Pacific’s motion to dismiss, rejecting its arguments that the EEOC lost its investigatory authority either after the issuance of a right to sue notice or when Union Pacific obtained a judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting a split in the Circuits. Given the EEOC’s broad role in preventing employment discrimination, including its independent authority to investigate charges of discrimination, especially at a company‐wide level, neither the issuance of a right‐to‐sue letter nor the entry of judgment in a lawsuit brought by individuals bars the EEOC from continuing its own investigation. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Owens became the maintenance supervisor at Phillips Academy. Months later, he came under supervision by Miller. According to Owens, he told Miller that he had an age-discrimination suit pending against the Board of Education. She replied: “Do you think you’re going to keep your job?” Owens maintains that he reminded Miller about the suit weeks later. She replied: “I think you lost your mind ... you think you’re going to keep your job.” The next month Miller gave Owens an “unsatisfactory” rating, the worst he had received since 1975. Owens contends that Miller told him: “I told you you weren’t going to get away with that.” Months later. the Board of Education, with a shrinking budget and declining enrollment, laid off 25 maintenance workers. Owens took early retirement, which he characterized as constructive discharge, alleging that Miller discriminated based on his age (61) and his first suit. The district court granted the Board summary judgment, finding that Miller had legitimate reasons to downrate Owens, who had several performance deficits. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part: the record would not permit a reasonable trier of fact to conclude that Owens’s age influenced his “unsatisfactory” rating. Owens’s retaliation theory, however, cannot be resolved on summary judgment. A reasonable juror could conclude that Miller threatened to get rid of Owens on account of his lawsuit and used the rating to do that. View "Owens v. Board of Education of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Regency operated for‐profit cosmetology schools in 20 states. Each offered classroom instruction and practical instruction in a salon, where members of the public could receive cosmetology services at low prices. Hollins, formerly a Regency student, asserts that the work she performed was compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, and that Regency violated state wage laws. She wanted to bring suit as an FLSA collective action and a state class action but the district court denied her motion to conditionally certify the FLSA action and never certified a class action under FRCP 23. The court addressed the individual merits of her case and granted summary judgment in Regency’s favor. Regency has since closed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first rejecting a claim that it lacked jurisdiction. There was a final judgment despite the unaccepted opt‐in notices that the court received. On the merits, the court noted that time on the Professional Floor was a state‐mandated requirement for professional licensure; Hollins was actually paying for supervised practical experience; Regency was in the educational business, not in the beauty salon business; and Hollins did not need to go out and find a place where she could serve her supervised practice. View "Hollins v. Regency Corp." on Justia Law

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In 2011, Plaintiffs, former arbitrators for the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, brought a due process action challenging the implementation of a workers’ compensation reform statute that terminated their six‐year appointments under prior law. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a clearly established right that was violated. While that suit was pending, the Illinois governor declined to reappoint Plaintiffs, which ended their employment. Two years later, Plaintiffs filed suit against the governor and his advisors, alleging retaliation for filing the prior suit and that the retaliation violated the First Amendment. The district court dismissed plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims, holding that the Due Process Suit was not protected speech. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, declining decide whether the Due Process Suit was speech on a matter of public concern as is required for a government employee to show retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. Plaintiffs’ claims fail because Plaintiffs were policymakers who could be not reappointed for engaging in “speech on a matter of public concern in a manner that is critical of superiors or their stated policies.” View "Hagan v. Quinn" on Justia Law

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In 2013 the Sheriff of Whitley County, Indiana hired the county’s first black police officer, McKinney. Nine months later, McKinney was fired. He sued for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e–2. The district court granted summary judgment for the Sheriff. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, his extensive evidence adds up to a strong case of race discrimination. The Sheriff “has offered an ever-growing list of rationales for firing McKinney that fall apart in the face of his evidence.” The Sheriff’s termination letter provided three reasons for his discharge. Four days later, the Board of Commissioners sent McKinney another letter that added two more reasons. After McKinney brought suit, the defense added three more reasons. McKinney presented evidence that he was treated differently than his similarly situated colleagues who are not black. He also presented substantial evidence that the many rationales offered for firing him were baseless and pretextual. The district court erred by disregarding most of McKinney’s evidence, improperly discounting his testimony as “self-serving,” and misreading the circuit’s precedent on the “common actor” inference that is sometimes argued in discrimination cases. View "McKinney v. Sheriff's Office of Whitley County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, current and former members of the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Organized Crime, claim that the Bureau did not compensate them for work they did off-duty on their mobile electronic devices (Blackerrys). The judge concluded that the Bureau did not prevent plaintiffs from requesting payment for non-scheduled overtime work and did not know that plaintiffs were not being paid for it. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201, requires employers to pay covered employees at one-and-a-half times their usual pay rate if they are employed for longer than a certain hourly threshold. Employers must pay for all work they know about, even if they did not ask for the work, even if they did not want the work done, and even if they had a rule against doing the work. That strict rule “stops short of requiring the employer to pay for work it did not know about and had no reason to know about.” The plaintiffs did not establish the existence of an unwritten policy not to compensate them for off-duty work performed on their BlackBerrys. No one ever told plaintiffs not to submit slips for that work, and no one was ever reprimanded or disciplined for submitting such slips. View "Allen v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Nischan had a history of performance problems and had made mistakes that had resulted in her demotion. One of her mistakes was serious, implicated safety concerns, and occurred in front of Sabbah, who was the employee of her employer’s (Stratosphere) client and who had then requested that Nischan be removed from the client’s account. Nischan then alleged that she was sexually harassed by Sabbah. Although Stratosphere requested that she report for reassignment, Nischan sought unemployment benefits. Nischan alleged that she was fired from her job for filing the sexual‐harassment complaint, citing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, and the Illinois Human Rights Act. The district court dismissed her claims. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. Nischan offered sufficient evidence supporting that claim to avert Stratosphere’s motion for summary judgment. Stratosphere had constructive notice of the harassment because supervisors were present when it occurred and were required, by the employee handbook, to report it. View "Nischan v. Stratosphere Quality, LLC" on Justia Law

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Stragapede worked in Evanston’s water services department for 14 years. In 2009 he suffered a traumatic brain injury at home. The city placed him on a temporary leave of absence during his recovery and rehabilitation. When he was medically cleared to return to work, Stragapede resumed full-time employment, but had some minor mishaps: he drove through an intersection while looking down and he went to the wrong address. After just a few weeks, the city again placed him on administrative leave and later terminated his employment. Stragapede sued for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12101. A jury found the city liable and awarded $225,000 in damages. The judge concluded that Stragapede was entitled to back pay plus interest from the date he was fired until the time of judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that Stragapede was not a qualified person under the ADA because he was unable to perform the essential functions of his job; that even if Stragapede was qualified, he posed a direct threat to himself and to others, which is a statutory defense to liability; and that the judge incorrectly calculated the back pay award. View "Stragapede v. City of Evanston" on Justia Law

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Lake County had cash flow of $51 million in 2007. In 2009, it was operating at a deficit; by 2013 its general fund was more than $1 million in the red. The county’s self-insurance fund had a balance of $10 million in 2007; that balance was wiped out by 2013. The county offered retirement incentives to employees age 65 or older. Under one package, retirees were entitled to five years of supplemental health insurance (secondary to Medicare coverage) through Aetna and could return to work, part-time, as at-will employees. In 2013, Aetna informed the county that if retirees working as part-time employees remained on the plan, the plan would no longer qualify for special exemptions under federal law and the county’s costs would skyrocket. The county notified all rehired retirees who were covered by the Aetna supplement that their employment would end. Some sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. 621, and the Equal Protection Clause. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the county. The key criterion that distinguished the terminated employees from other county employees was not their age but rather their participation in the Aetna plan. The county’s action was rationally related to a legitimate state interest: preserving supplemental insurance coverage for its retirees while avoiding further financial hardship. View "Carson v. Lake County" on Justia Law