Monday, August 15, 2011

7th Circuit Employment Case Law Update

I've been slacking on my case law updates because I've been busy with my own cases. I recently noticed a few decisions out of the 7th Circuit in the employment law arena and wanted to highlight them.

--Diaz v. Kraft Foods Global, Inc., No. 10-3073 (7th Cir. Aug. 8, 2011): District court's grant of summary judgment affirmed in part (disparate pay), reversed in part (race discrimination). This case highlights the Court's stance on Title VII race discrimination claims that an employer cannot defend against a Title VII claim by pointing to the fact it treated at least one minority group member favorably. After all, this is a disparate treatment claim, not disparate impact:

"Title VII would have little force if an employer could defeat a claim of discrim- ination by treating a single member of the protected class in accordance with the law. Suppose the district court’s view carried the day: a female employee suffering from discrimination on the basis of her sex would have to establish that her employer discriminated against all women in the workplace to assert a sex dis- crimination claim. That, sensibly, is not how Title VII operates. Instead, “[t]he principal focus of the statute is the protection of the individual employee, rather than the protection of the minority group as a whole.” Connecti- cut v. Teal, 457 U.S. 440, 453-54 (1982); City of Los Angeles, Dep’t of Water and Power v. Manhart, 435 U.S. 702, 708-09 (1978) (recognizing that fairness to the class of women employees does not excuse discrimination against an individual female employee). Discrimination against one Hispanic employee violates the statute, no matter how well another Hispanic employee is treated. See Brown v. Henderson, 257 F.3d 246, 252 (2d Cir. 2001). We agree with the plaintiffs that there is no token excep- tion to anti-discrimination law. See Teal, 457 U.S. at 455"

--Burnell v. Gates Rubber Co., No. 10-3490 (7th Cir. July 27, 2011): District court's grant of summary judgment affirmed in part (section 1981 and discriminatory discharge), reversed in part (retaliatory discharge). This case focuses on the ever popular "temporal proximity" aspect of discrimination claims. In this case, the plaintiff had a long history of lodging complaints of perceived racial discrimination, mostly from 1993-1996, but had lodged a complaint as early as 2006 (he was terminated in December 2006). Though the plaintiff was terminated for refusing a disciplinary form, because the employer made a statement about the plaintiff "playing the race card" when the plaintiff refused to sign, an inference that the termination was in part based on complaining about racial discrimination was created.

--Benuzzi v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, No. 10-3021 (7th Cir. July 21, 2011): In a case of, "what the heck was that employer thinking?," exactly one day after sitting for her deposition, the plaintiff was issued a Notice of Disciplinary Action for something that happened 4 months previously by the defendant-employer! Obviously this allowed the Court to find for retaliation for the underlying Title VII gender, race and ADEA and ADA claims.

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