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. 

 
 
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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.
 
 
FMLA
Employee Langenbach claimed that Wal-Mart fired her in retaliation for exercising her FMLA rights as she was fired just five months after returning from FMLA leave, in violation of the FMLA. However, Wal-Mart claimed that Langenbach was fired for job performance reasons. 


The Seventh Circuit held that the record showed a history of deficiencies and sub-par performance by Langenbach both before and after the FMLA leave of absence.  Therefore, it affirmed the grant of Wal-Mart's motion for summary judgment. Langenbach v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 14-1022 (August 4, 2014).

Lagenbach also sued for Title VII discrimination, claiming that Wal-Mart: (1) delayed her promotion to assistant manager; (2) paid her less than her male counterparts; and (3) failed to promote her further - all because of her gender.  The District Court granted summary judgment to Wal-Mart on this claim as well.  The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the proffered male comparatives, who were promoted in faster time frame, had different educational backgrounds and more relevant job experiences than plaintiff. 

 
 
Plaintiff Matthews brought a Title VII action alleging that Waukesha County failed to hire her in an Economic Support Specialist position because of her race.  

However, the Seventh Circuit held that the record showed that the person evaluating the applicants’ resumes was unaware of the race of any applicant, and that the successful candidate had more relevant job experience.  Therefore, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court, which granted Waukesha’s motion for summary judgment.  Matthews v. Waukesha County, No. 13-1839 (July 22, 2014).

 
 
The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer and the Seventh Circuit reversed. Malin v. Hospira, Inc., No. 13-2433 (7th Cir., August 7, 2014).

In the unerlying action, Plaintiff Malin sued Hospira for failing to promote her and demoting her in a reorganization thus retaliating against her in violation of Title VII and the FMLA.

Malin argued that complained about sexual harassment in 2003 and was then demoted in a 2006 reorganization.  The Seventh Circuit focused on whether there was a causal connection between the complaint and demotion, holding that there was.  The Court noted that "the mere passage of time is not legally conclusive proof against retaliation" and noted that the employer had repeatedly retaliated against Malin from 2003 through 2006.

Malin requested FMLA leave on June 19, 2006, and the reorganization was announced on July 12, 2006.  The Court held that 
a "single event can have multiple but-for causes, so Malin’s FMLA leave request and her sexual harassment complaint could both have been but-for causes of Hospira’s allegedly retaliatory conduct." Further, a reasonable jury could find that Hospira retaliated against Malin for requesting FMLA leave.  

Finally, the Court noted its "disappointment" with Hospira's summary judgement motion, which "misrepresented the record" and "cherry-picked" phrases from plaintiffs deposition, when no admissions existed.  The Court warned about the additional costs and risks of sanctions for "engaging in these shenanigans" under 28 USC  § 1927.