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

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Mascow, a teacher who had tenure under Illinois law, was laid off in 2017. Because her latest rating was “unsatisfactory,” she was first in line for layoff when the school lost one position and lacked any recall rights if the school district began hiring again—as it did. She sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Due Process Clause entitled her to a hearing before the layoff and that the “unsatisfactory” rating violated the First Amendment. Mascow became co-president of the Union in 2010. Her First Amendment claim rests on her actions in 2014 and 2015 in notifying administrators that planned activities would violate the collective bargaining agreement. The school canceled one event and revised the other. The district court rejected both claims, reasoning that a reasonable jury could not find that the 2014 and 2015 meetings caused a reduction in Mascow’s ratings, noting that Mascow’s co-president, who attended the 2015 meeting, retained an “excellent” rating. The Seventh Circuit affirmed with respect to the First Amendment but vacated with respect to the due process claim. Neither the district judge nor the parties’ briefs addressed how teachers can obtain review of their ratings and whether those opportunities satisfy the constitutional need for “some kind of hearing.” View "Mascow v. Board of Education of Franklin Park School District No. 84" on Justia Law

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WPS employed Stelter as an assistant in 2002 and promoted her to sales representative in 2007. In 2010, Harings, an agency manager, expressed concern in Stelter’s performance review regarding personal appointments made during work hours. In 2013, Harings again noted appointments during work hours and Stelter’s need for better familiarity with large group insurance products. In February 2014, Stelter injured her back at work. WPS approved her request for time off. On April 17, Stelter’s doctor cleared her to return with no restrictions. In June, Harings conducted Stelter’s performance review, giving an overall rating of improvement required. To get Stelter better acquainted with selling large group insurance, Harings had Stelter visit another WPS office, about a two-hour drive from the location where Stelter worked. In September, Harings met with Stelter weekly. Harings’s notes expressed her frustration that Stelter failed to request additional training and continued leaving work for appointments without giving adequate notice. Harings recommended termination. In December, WPS terminated Stelter. Stelter sued, claiming discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. She alleged she was disabled with back pain that was aggravated by a work injury, The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of WPS. Stelter was terminated for a pattern of job absenteeism and deficiency. View "Stelter v. Wisconsin Physicians Service Insurance Corp." on Justia Law

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Phillips injured his ribs while playing with his grandchildren. For two weeks, he called his employer, United, to report he would miss work. Phillips stopped calling in and did not appear for work on three consecutive days so United fired him. He sued, alleging United failed to properly notify him of his rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2617, and that he was fired in retaliation for attempting to exercise his right to seek FMLA leave. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of the retaliation claim but remanded Phillips’s interference claim. A reasonable jury could find that Phillips’s injury constituted a serious health condition. If United failed to train its personnel to recognize FMLA-qualifying leave, that may factor into deciding whether Phillips provided sufficient notice of his need for leave. A jury must decide the factual question of whether the nature and amount of information he conveyed put United on notice and required United to notify Phillips whether the leave would be designated as FMLA leave. His wife attested had Phillips known United offered FMLA leave, he would have taken it. Other than that, the record does not reflect whether Phillips would have acted differently had United provided the requisite information Even if Phillips engaged in a protected activity and United took adverse employment action against him, Phillips failed to establish any causal connection between his alleged attempt to seek FMLA relief and his discharge. View "Lutes v. United Trailers, Inc." on Justia Law

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Robertson brought claims against DHS and two DHS employees, Mattke and Evan, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, alleging retaliation for complaining of discrimination in the workplace. The district court dismissed the claims against Evans and Mattke because Title VII authorizes suit only against an employer as an entity, not against individuals, then granted summary judgment, holding that Robertson’s retaliation claim against DHS for failing to promote her to a director position failed because she could not prove a “but-for” causal link between her protected activity (reporting discrimination) and DHS’s decision not to promote her. With respect to her second retaliation claim, alleging that DHS continued the retaliation against her through Evans, the court held that Robertson failed to establish that she suffered an adverse action. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. With respect to her failure-to-promote claim, DHS provided a nonretaliatory reason for choosing another candidate. Robertson failed to submit evidence that DHS’s reason was pretextual. Robertson failed to “identify such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies, or contradictions” in DHS’s stated reason for hiring Evans over her “that a reasonable person could find [it] unworthy of credence.” With respect to her claim that DHS continued the retaliation through Evans, Robertson has failed to show that she suffered a materially adverse action. View "Robertson v. Wisconsin Department of Health Services" on Justia Law

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Bentley, the owner of Trucking, rear-ended the Kolchinskys’ car while driving a tractor-trailer through Illinois. The Kolchinskys were severely injured. Bentley's deliveries had been arranged by WD, which instructed Bentley to transport milk from Indiana to its destination. His route was up to him. Trucking’s agreement with WD provided that Bentley was an independent contractor. When Trucking accepted a job from WD, it agreed to call the broker daily with a status update, protect the freight, notify the broker of any damage, and inform the broker of delivery. Tucking was responsible for determining delivery times; WD reserved the right to withhold any resulting damages. The agreement required Trucking to pay its employees and provide and maintain its own tractor, fuel, insurance, licenses, and permits. The Kolchinskys sued Bentley; citing theories of respondeat superior and vicarious liability, the Kolchinskys also sued Trucking and WD The judge granted the defendants judgment, concluding that the driver was an independent contractor so the Kolchinskys could not hold the companies responsible for his alleged negligence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Courts applying Illinois law consistently have declined to find an agency relationship when a company hires an independent driver to deliver a load to designated persons at designated hours but does not reserve the right to control the manner of delivery. WD had no part in the transaction leading to Bentley’s fateful trip View "Kolchinsky v. Western Dairy Transport, LLC" on Justia Law

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Facebook employee Bigger sued Facebook alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, overtime-pay requirements, on behalf of herself and all similarly situated employees. The district court authorized notice of the action to be sent to the entire group of employees. Facebook argued the authorization was improper because many of the proposed recipients had entered arbitration agreements precluding them from joining the action. The Seventh Circuit remanded, stating that, in authorizing notice, the court must avoid even the appearance of endorsing the action’s merits. A court may not authorize notice to individuals whom the court has been shown entered mutual arbitration agreements waiving their right to join the action and must give the defendant an opportunity to make that showing. When a defendant opposing the issuance of notice alleges that proposed recipients entered such arbitration agreements, the court must determine whether a plaintiff contests the defendant’s assertions about the existence of valid arbitration agreements. If no plaintiff contests those assertions, then the court may not authorize notice to the employees whom the defendant alleges entered valid arbitration agreements. If a plaintiff contests the defendant’s assertions, then— before authorizing notice to the alleged “arbitration employees”—the court must permit the parties to submit additional evidence on the agreements’ existence and validity. View "Bigger v. Facebook, Inc." on Justia Law

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Youngman, a Peoria County Juvenile Center counselor, was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor and acromegaly in 1993 and had surgery to remove the tumor and part of his pituitary gland. He had a thyroidectomy in 2011, resulting in hypothyroidism and hypocalcemia. The Center’s superintendent reviewed the rotation of assignments and decided that every counselor needed to be trained in and rotated through all assignments, including the control room. Youngman had only worked in the control room on 10-14 occasions during his 13 years at the Center. Youngman was assigned to work in the control room for a week in 2012 but was not told that this was for training purposes and would only be temporary. Youngman informed his supervisor that he could no longer work in the control room because he experienced headaches, nausea, and dizziness. He was placed on medical leave and instructed that he could return to work when his condition improved. After Youngman’s leave time expired, his position was filled; he found employment elsewhere. He filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging that his employer had refused to accommodate his disability. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, citing the lack of proof of a causal nexus between Youngman’s hypothyroidism and the limitation for which he sought an accommodation. View "Youngman v. Peoria County" on Justia Law

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United Airlines hired Taha in 1988 and laid him off in 2003. He retained recall rights under a collective bargaining agreement. After a 12-year furlough, Taha returned to work. Weeks later, Taha learned his mother had suffered a heart attack. She lived in Saudi Arabia. Taha asked for six months off to travel and care for her. United gave him 30 days. He sought assistance from Starck, a human resources representative, and the union’s president, Stripling. United denied Taha’s extended-leave request in a letter sent to his Indiana home. Taha never saw it; he remained in Saudi Arabia and did not return to work, which the airline construed as job abandonment. He was fired. Taha grieved his firing. At a Joint Board of Adjustment (JBA) hearing, Stripling represented Taha. The JBA denied Taha’s grievance. Taha asked the union to demand arbitration; the union replied, more than six months later, that the CBA barred further pursuit of his grievance. Taha then sued, alleging a breach of the duty to fairly represent him under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 151–188. He cited only two facts: before the JBA hearing began, Taha overheard Stripling and Starck “chatt[ing] genially” about Starck acquiring airline tickets for Stripling’s friends, and, during the hearing, Stripling “prevented Taha from presenting several strong and important exhibits.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint, finding no evidence of unlawful union conduct. View "Taha v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters" on Justia Law

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Lett worked as an investigator for Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability. In 2016, Lett was investigating police involvement in a particular civilian shooting. The Chief Administrator, Fairley, directed Lett to include in the report a finding that police officers had planted a gun on the shooting victim. Lett refused because he did not believe that the evidence supported that finding. Lett raised his concerns with Fairley’s deputy, who spoke with Fairley. Soon after, Lett was removed from his investigative team, then removed from investigative work, and ultimately assigned to janitorial duties. Fairley opened an internal investigation that concluded that Lett had violated the office’s confidentiality policy. Fairley ordered that Lett be fired. Lett initiated a grievance through his union. The arbitrator ordered the office to reinstate Lett with back pay and to expunge his record. Fairley immediately placed Lett on administrative leave with pay. Lett was assigned on paper to the Police Department’s FOIA office but was not allowed to return to work. Lett sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging First Amendment retaliation for his refusal to write a false report and Monell liability for the city and Fairley in her official capacity. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. Lett spoke pursuant to his official duties and not as a private citizen when he refused to alter the report; the First Amendment does not apply. View "Lett v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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The Chicago Police Department (CPD) periodically administered an examination for sergeants seeking promotion to lieutenant. While the CPD retained discretion over whom to promote, those who scored highest on the exam were generally first in line. Word has served with the CPD since 2001. When he took the exam in 2006, he was ranked 150th. The sergeants ranked 1-149 received promotions; Word was the highest-scoring sergeant who did not. In 2015, when Word next took the exam, his ranking fell to 280th. He was passed over. Word alleges that three senior CPD leaders each had “wives or paramours” who were sergeants who took the 2015 exam and then received promotions. Word alleges that one defendant had early access to the exam and provided test content to the wives and paramours. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit, which alleged violations of equal protection and due process under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and breach of contract. While Illinois law prohibits “wilfully or corruptly furnish[ing] to any person any special or secret information,” there is no property interest in any municipal promotional process. Class-of-one equal protection claims are barred in the public employment context. Word’s s theory does not amount to gender discrimination. There was no contract and Word has not plausibly alleged that the city and exam administrator intended to confer legally enforceable rights on the test takers. View "Word v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law