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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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From 1993-2017, Chicago treated O’Hare Airport aviation security officers as law-enforcement personnel, able to make arrests while employed and carry concealed firearms after retirement. The officers were unarmed and reported to the Commissioner of Aviation rather than the Chief of Police. In 2017 Chicago concluded that they are not law enforcement personnel. The Illinois Labor Relations Board sustained the decision. Neither the union nor any of its members contested that decision in state court. Three aviation security officers filed a federal suit, contending that the reclassification violated the Due Process Clause.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. There is no “fundamental right” to be a law enforcement officer. Although the Chicago Code says that the officers “shall be sworn in as special policemen,” the process due for any violation of state or local law or of a collective-bargaining agreement is the opportunity to sue in state court. The union bypassed that opportunity in 2018. A suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 is not a way to supersede that decision. The collective-bargaining agreement does not promise that aviation security officers will remain law enforcement officials and the correct entity to seek review was the union, not individual members. The court upheld a $40,0000 award of costs. View "Yates v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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Sanchez filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) against his former employer, DuPage Regional Office of Education. Sanchez claimed that, after he made two protected disclosures concerning expenditures to DuPage, he suffered five reprisals in violation of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, 41 U.S.C. 4712. The OIG investigated and determined his claims to be unsubstantiated. An ALJ determined, contrary to the findings of the OIG, that Sanchez was entitled to relief for all five alleged reprisals and ordered DuPage to pay Sanchez compensatory damages of $210,000.The Seventh Circuit remanded the case to the Department of Education, “suggesting” assignment to a different ALJ. The court held that DuPage did not establish that it was entitled to sovereign immunity from the Department’s adjudication of Sanchez’s whistleblower complaint. On the merits, the court concluded that the actions described by Sanchez were not retaliatory. View "DuPage Regional Office of Education v. United States Department of Education" on Justia Law

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After completing an orientation program for newly licensed nurses, Bragg was denied a full-time position at Community Hospital, which is operated by Munster. Community transferred her to Hartsfield, another Munster facility, where her pay was lower. Bragg, who is Black, alleged that, during her orientation, after being race-matched to patients, she complained and was subsequently treated differently. Bragg asserts that another supervisor played sexually explicit rap music at the nurses' station when Bragg was present, making graphic hand gestures. Bragg felt this was targeted at her. When white nurses were present, the supervisor played pop and country music. The supervisor allegedly laughingly called a Black patient’s amputated limb a “skinny, brown stick.” Bragg thought that another supervisor made an inappropriate reference to lynching when an oxygen line got wrapped around a Black patient’s neck, stating“let’s not have a hanging.” Bragg claims that all three supervisors gave her poor evaluations and blamed her for problems that were not her fault. Bragg sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, acknowledging that Bragg’s reports of racial insensitivity are typical of the challenges Black women face in the workplace. Bragg’s evidence would not allow a trier of fact to conclude that Community denied her a full-time position and transferred her for impermissible reasons, rather than for its stated concern about deficiencies in her performance. View "Bragg v. Munster Medical Research Foundation, Inc." on Justia Law

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Michael has worked for FCA for more than two decades. In 2014 he married Becky, also a veteran FCA employee at the company’s Kokomo, Indiana transmission plant. In 2017 they submitted medical certifications from their healthcare providers to take intermittent leave from work under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2601, for periodic flare-ups of anxiety, depression, and back pain (Michael) and irritable bowel syndrome (Becky). At the end of that year, FCA’s outside FMLA administrator notified the company that they had 21 common days of FMLA absence and an additional 27 days on which their partial-day leave requests overlapped. FCA opened an investigation. Neither Michael nor Becky could explain why they had requested FMLA leave on so many of the same dates and times. FCA suspended both for providing false or misleading information in connection with their FMLA leave requests.In a suit alleging interference with FMLA rights and retaliation, the district judge granted FCA summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. There was no evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to find that the suspension was not based on an honest suspicion of FMLA abuse. View "Michael Juday v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law

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Baro was an ESL teacher for Waukegan Community School District in 2019 when she signed a union membership form—a contract to join the union that represents teachers in the District. The form authorized the District to deduct union dues from her paychecks for one year. Baro alleged she learned later that she was not required to join the union. She tried to back out of the agreement. The union insisted that her contract was valid. The District continued deducting dues from her paychecks.Baro filed suit, arguing that the dues deduction violated her First Amendment rights under the Supreme Court’s 2019 “Janus: decision. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Baro voluntarily consented to the withdrawal of union dues. The enforcement of a valid private contract does not implicate her First Amendment rights. The “First Amendment protects our right to speak. It does not create an independent right to void obligations when we are unhappy with what we have said.” View "Baro v. Lake County Federation of Teachers Local 504, IFT-AFT" on Justia Law

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The employers agreed that for the duration of two collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), they would make pension contributions on behalf of covered employees to the Pension Fund. Both CBAs contained “evergreen clauses” that extended them a year at a time until either party provided timely written notice expressing an “intention to terminate.” Both were to expire in January 2019. After the window for timely notice of intention to terminate on that date, the employers and the union signed new CBAs requiring pension contributions to a different fund beginning in February 2019. The employers notified the Fund that they were ceasing contributions, relying on letters the union sent in November 2018.The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the Fund’s lawsuit. Those letters did not express the union’s intent to terminate the existing CBAs, so as to satisfy the evergreen clause's termination procedure. The letters did not mention termination. They noted the date that the CBAs would expire and expressed a desire to meet to negotiate new agreements; neither of these points communicated an intent to terminate the existing agreements. In the context of an evergreen clause, expiration and termination are distinct concepts. A desire to negotiate a new contract is quite consistent with a desire to leave the existing agreement in place until a new deal is reached. The old agreements renewed under the evergreen clauses; the employers remained obligated to contribute to the Fund for one more year. View "Central States Southeast & Southwest Areas Pension Fund v. Zenith Logistics, Inc." on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs, firefighters and their union, alleged retaliation for protected First Amendment activity. Mayor Copeland, a former firefighter of 26 years, had implemented cost-cutting measures, including freezing the firefighters' salaries and benefits. During Copeland’s reelection campaign, the firefighter’s political action committee endorsed Copeland’s opponent and other candidates who opposed Copeland’s policies. Copeland was reelected. Several firefighters protested at Copeland’s inauguration. Copeland vetoed an ordinance to restore some of the benefits and directed Fire Chief Serna to develop a new schedule. An 8/24 schedule, whereby a firefighter would work eight hours and then be off 24 hours was proposed. No other fire department in the country has adopted that schedule, which assigns firefighters to different shifts every day. In a secretly-recorded conversation, Serna said: “You can call it retaliation.” The defendants proposed to give up the schedule in exchange for the Union giving up its right to lobby the Common Council. The Union rejected the proposal; the city implemented the 8/24 schedule. The Council later returned the firefighters’ to a 24/48 schedule. Copeland sued the Council, alleging that the ordinance violated his executive power. The state court agreed with Copeland and struck the ordinance—leaving the 8/24 schedule in effect.The Seventh Circuit affirmed a preliminary injunction, ordering the city to immediately begin reinstating the old work schedule. There was no evidence that the 8/24 schedule would result in cost savings; the firefighters would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction. View "International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 365 v. City of East Chicago, Indiana" on Justia Law

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Uebelacker sent a former coworker (Schuman) private Facebook messages disparaging her bosses. Soon afterward, Uebelacker’s employer discovered the messages while another employee (Booth) was transferring files from Schuman’s former work computer so others could access them. Schuman was still signed in to her personal Facebook account on the active internet browser. Booth opened the conversation and took screenshots of the conversation. Uebelacker was demoted and eventually fired. Uebelacker sued under the Stored Communications Act, which prohibits unauthorized access to communications in electronic storage, 18 U.S.C. 2701(a).The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer based on the statute of limitations, which requires that suits be filed no later than “two years after the date upon which the claimant first discovered or had a reasonable opportunity to discover the violation.” The Act’s limitations period began running in January 2019 and expired in January 2021. Uebelacker did not file suit until March 2021. A vague fear of termination cannot save Uebelacker’s claim. View "Uebelacker v. Rock Energy Cooperative" on Justia Law

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ADT installs and services security systems. Before 2020, ADT had offices in Rockford, Illinois, and Madison, Wisconsin. Since 1994 the Rockford employees have been represented by a union. The most recent collective bargaining agreement ran from 2017-2020. The Madison employees were not represented by a union. In 2019 ADT announced that it would close both the Rockford and Madison facilities and combine the operations in a new Janesville, Wisconsin office, stating that the Rockford employees would “stay in the Union.” A few months later, ADT purportedly withdrew recognition of the Rockford union, based on a decertification petition that had not been signed by any member of the certified bargaining unit. ADT then unilaterally changed several terms and conditions of the union members’ employment.The union filed unfair labor practice charges. The NLRB found that ADT had unlawfully withdrawn recognition from the union, unlawfully made unilateral changes to the Rockford unit employees’ terms and conditions of employment, and unlawfully interrogated and threatened a Rockford unit employee about his support for the union. Citing ADT’s history as “a recidivist violator” and “its evident disdain” for the rights of employees, the Board issued a broad remedial order. The Seventh Circuit granted a petition for enforcement, calling the situation a “disappointing and transparent attempt by an employer to avoid its obligations under the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 151.” View "ADT, LLC v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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Oak Park hired Barwin as its village manager in 2006, as an at-will employee. He had previously worked as a city manager in Michigan. Barwin resigned under threat of termination 30 months before his pension rights vested. Barwin alleged that Oak Park breached its contractual duty of good faith and fair dealing by forcing him out of his job to prevent his pension from vesting and by refusing to honor its practice of allowing senior employees to purchase out-of-state pension credits to meet the vesting threshold.The district court rejected Barwin’s claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part. Barwin has no plausible contract claim for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing based on an expectation that the Village would not fire him or force him to resign to prevent him from reaching retirement eligibility. As an at-will employee, Barwin had no enforceable expectation that he would remain employed long enough to meet the vesting threshold. The district court erred in entering summary judgment on the claim that Oak Park breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing by not allowing Barwin to purchase out-of-state pension credits as it had historically done with other employees. His employment contract entitled him to the same benefits that other senior employees enjoyed “by practice.” A finder of fact could reasonably conclude that the Village had a practice of allowing such employees to purchase out-of-state pension credits. View "Barwin v. Village of Oak Park" on Justia Law