Employee Sheikh brought a lawsuit against his former employer for firing him because of his Indian ethnicity in violation of Title VII. Sheikh v. Grant Regional Health Center, No. 14-1449 (October 14, 2014). 

The employer moved for summary judgment. Sheikh's response to the motion - filed by his counsel - did not respond directly to the employer's proposed facts. The District Court denied Sheikh's request to file a pro se response to the employer's proposed findings of fact, and granted the employer's motion.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the denial of the additional response was proper as: (1) it was late and (2) Sheikh was represented by counsel at the time the "pro se" response was requested. The Seventh Circuit noted that while the District Court erred in entering an order when plaintiff was acting pro se stating that no further extensions to respond to the motion would be granted for any reason, Sheikh could not establish prejudice. 

Trans States Airlines
GoJet Airlines
Employee Cuff brought an action against his employer, Trans States for firing him because he took FMLA leave despite the employer's denial of his request, in violation of the FMLA.  

The issues was whether Cuff was covered by FMLA, which requires at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the employee's station.  Trans States had 33 employees within that radius and GoJet had 343 employees.  Cuff argued that he was a joint employee.  The District Court granted summary judgment in Cuff's favor, finding that he was a joint employee, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed.  Cuff v. Trans States Holdings, Inc., No. 13-1241 (September 19, 2014).

Under Department of Labor regulations, Cuff could properly look to second entity to establish joint employer relationship, since Trans States and GoJet operated a joint airline business that involved sharing Cuff's services as “regional manager” and identifying Cuff as the contact person for both entities. 

The Seventh Circuit also noted that the record further supported jury’s verdict in favor of Cuff on merits of case, and held that Trans States waived any reduction of jury’s damages award based on after-acquired evidence doctrine, where Trans States failed to make any offer of proof of plaintiff’s alleged misconduct in workplace. 
Employee Moultrie claimed that his employer, Penn Aluminum, demoted him because of his race in violation of Title VII and the collective bargaining agreement. The District Court granted employer Penn Alumimum’s motion for summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit upheld the ruling.  Moultrie v. Penn Aluminum International, LLC, No. 13-2206 (September 10, 2014).

The Seventh Circuit held that Moultrie failed to present evidence that he was performing his forklift job up to Penn Aluminum's expectations as the record showed that Moultrie was involved in series of mishaps during his operation of forklift. Furthermore, Moultire failed to identify similarly-situated employees who were treated more favorably.

As to the collective bargaining agreement claim, Moultrie's breach of contract action was untimely as it was filed two years after deadline for filing any arbitration request instead of within the 6-month limitations period under section 10(b) of the NLRA.

Employee Abraham brought a suit against his employer, Washington Group, for breach of his employment contract because Washington Group failed to give Abraham the duties of project control manager.  The District Court granted Washington Group’s motion for summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Abraham v. Washington Group International, Inc., No. 13-2050 (September 9, 2014).

The Seventh Circuit held that the terms of contract indicated that Abraham would be given (1) the title of project control manager, (2) at a specific job site, and (3) with specific salary, and that Abraham received all three promised items. 

Furthermore, Abraham could not use extrinsic evidence to establish what duties he would be doing where terms of the contract were unambiguous, and weight of extrinsic evidence would have supported defendant’s claim that Abraham was to be given the title of project control manger, but duties of different position. 
Employee Muhammad brought a Title VII action claiming that his employer, Caterpillar, had failed to take appropriate steps to stop his co-workers from subjecting him to sexual and racial harassment and subsequently suspended him in retaliation for complaining about said harassment.  The District Court granted Caterpillar’s motion for summary judgment.  The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Muhammad v. Caterpillar, Inc., No. 12-1723 (September 9, 2014).

The Seventh Circuit held that the record contained sufficient evidence that Caterpillar  reasonably responded to Muhammad's complaints of harassment, as Caterpillar:
  • counseled all three co-workers who made offensive statements and those co-workers either stopped making such comments or Muhammad failed to report any additional comments after the counseling. 
  • addressed the problem of the offensive graffiti appearing on workplace walls, where that graffiti was promptly removed, and where the graffiti stopped after every co-worker was threatened with termination if caught defacing the walls. 

Also, Muhammad failed to establish his retaliation claim where: (1) he could only speculate that his suspension was related to his complaints; and (2) Caterpillar's explanation that the suspension stemmed from an incident in which Muhammad was observed not at his work station was partially supported by Muhammad's concession that he left his work station during work time, and that a confrontation arose after his supervisor addressed the issue with him. 
Non-Solicitation/Non-Competition Agreement
Employer Scheffel filed an action against its former employee Heil to enforce a non-solicitation clause in the employment agreement.  As part of that action, Scheffel moved for a preliminary injunction.  

The District Court entered preliminary injunction in favor of Scheffel, a financial advising company, to enforce the non-solicitation clause in employment agreement with Heil, stopping him from "using or disclosing Scheffel's confidential information, restricting him from any direct or personal solicitation of Scheffel's clients or customers . . . , and ordering him to return . . . any an all clint information which he is not authorized to have."

The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed.  Scheffel Financial Services, Inc. v. Heil, 2014 Ill. App. (5th) 130600 (August 22, 2014).  It held that the District Court properly found that evidence was sufficient to allow company to proceed on preliminary injunction. The injunction did not present undue hardship to Heil, as it did not preclude him from working, but only from soliciting Scheffel's clients and from using or disclosing any of Scheffel's confidential information. The District Court idd not abuse its discretion.

Plaintiff Council sued Village of Dolton claiming he was retaliatory fired in violation of the First Amendment right to free speech.  Council v. Village of Dolton (No. 13 C 93 August 22, 2014).  

In a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Village argued that Council's claims were barred because he had litigated (and lost) his claim for unemployment benefits all the way up to the Illinois Appellate Court as it found that he "voluntarily" separated when he failed to obtain a license.  

Judge Zagel agreed, but the Seventh Circuit, in an opinion written by Judge Posner, reversed, holding that it violated the plain language of the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act, which provides that unemployment claims shall have no preclusive effect in any other litigation.

More specifically, the Unemployment Insurance Act provides that “no finding, determination, decision, ruling or order (including any finding of fact, statement or conclusion made therein) issued pursuant to this Act shall constitute res judicata.” 820 ILCS 405/1900(B) (as amended in 1991). Further, the Illinois Appellate Court finding as to why Council lost his job was a ruling made pursuant to that Act.  Therefore, "[i]t squarely fits the list of determinations in section 1900(B) that shall not have preclusive effect."
Norman Rockwell's Freedom of Speech
Plaintiff Graber sued Sheriff Clarke and the County for violating his First Amendment rights to free speech and association under section 1983, claiming that he was suspended and "verbal[ly] assault[ed]" because he had complained behalf of his fellow union members about mandatory overtime. 

After the bench trial, the District Court found that Graber failed to establish a causal connection between the adverse acts and his protected speech. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Graber v. Clarke, No. 11-1038 (Aug. 18, 2014).

The Seventh Circuit held that Graber’s protests constituted protected speech because they were made in his role as union vice-president. However, Graber failed to show that his suspension was related to those protests because record showed that the suspension was based upon an unrelated incident and Graber admitted that "he was not disciplined for [his] conduct as a union official."

Similarly, verbal "assault" was related to a different separate incident in which Graber was insubordinate to his supervisor. 

Plaintiff Hansen sued his former employer, for violating the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when it fired him for excessive absenteeism while he was trying to use FMLA leave. The District Court granted the employer's motion for summary judgment, but the Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. Hansen v. Fincantieri Marine Corp., LLC, No. 13-3391 (August 18, 2014).

The Seventh Circuit held that expert testimony is not required to prove that an employee is unable to work.
More specifically, the record showed that Hansen had exceeded the number of absences that his doctor estimated that Hansen would need on his FMLA certification form for his medical condition. The District Court found that Hansen could not prove his claim because he had no expert evidence to establish that the absences that exceeded that estimate were related to his medical condition. However, the Seventh Circuit held that Hansen did not need to have such expert evidence where his physician was able to testify about his condition and Hansen was able to testify about the reason for those absences.

Furthermore, the Seventh Circuit rejected defendant’s claim that the estimate made by Hansen's doctor in the original medical certification form served as outer limit for the amount of leave that Hansen could take to address his medical condition when taking intermediate leave under FMLA.

Today, Governor Quinn approved the amendment to the Human Rights Act that requires employers to reasonably accommodate pregnancies.  The amendment takes effect January 1, 2015.  

To learn more about the amendment, read our blog post from 5/28/14.