7th Circuit Employment Law News - U.S. Seventh Circuit
U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Recent Employment Law Decisions

'Physician, heal thyself,' the proverb goes. A recent opinion from the Seventh Circuit provides an important addendum: once you're done, get back to work quickly.

The court recently dismissed an ADA suit by a doctor who failed to get back to work tout suite after taking medical leave to deal with his bipolar disorder. Larry Hooper, M.D., was fired for not returning to work after he had been cleared by a psychiatrist and warned by his employer, Proctor Health Care in Peoria, Illinois.

7th Circuit Interprets Proximate Cause in Cat's Paw Case

If you don't know what the Cat's Paw theory of liability is, don't feel bad. It's a reference to an ancient Aesop story where a scheming monkey dupes a cat into harming his paw so that the monkey could reap the benefits of someone's labor and pain.

The 7th Circuit has offered its own interpretation on which defendants can rely without fear of being duped into a costly and headache inducing discrimination lawsuit.

Just in time for Labor Day comes a (relative) success for union organizers. The Seventh Circuit slapped down an auto dealership which threatened its employees against unionizing last Friday. When workers at Libertyville Toyota in Illinois began organizing, the dealership's owner, AutoNation, called them together to warn them against unionizing, saying that they would face wage cuts and blacklisting if they did. AutoNation is the largest auto chain in the country.

One sly employee surreptitiously recorded one of the meetings, conducted by two AutoNation executives. Those recordings lead to the Seventh Circuit's recent ruling against the company.

Got bad precedent? Differentiate it. Did a question certified to a state court come out not in your favor? Try to spin it. But remember, there are limits to legal interpretation. If you're not careful, you might soon find yourself simply denying reality.

This is exactly what happened to FedEx, according to the Seventh Circuit. For nine years, FedEx had classified its drivers as independent contractors, not employees, leading to litigation throughout the country. When the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the drivers were employees under state law, FedEx simply attempted to ignore that reality, much to the Seventh Circuit's chagrin.

Racial discrimination in the workplace often results in grievances that are sad or even painful to hear about. That wasn't the case with the discrimination case brought by police sergeant Michael Miller. In writing his decision, Judge Posner didn't seem too impressed with Miller's list of grievances.

Miller held a stable position in a detective bureau in Indiana. In 2010, he ran unsuccessfully for Sheriff. He subsequently asked the new sheriff if he could be appointed as warden of the county jail or assistant chief of the police department. When he was passed over for these positions, his situations went from bad to worse.

Unconstitutional to Reduce Pension Benefits: Ill. Supreme Court

Illinois, like many states, was facing a funding crisis: State liabilities to public employees on pensions have been on the rise as more and more employees retire, with no proportional increase in funding for those pensions. The state could either raise more money or cut benefits.

Which one did legislators pick?

Chicago Window Washers Exempt from Overtime, Says 7th Cir.

Are window washers exempt from overtime? They very well could be, the Seventh Circuit said in an opinion issued on April 1 (which is no joke, by the way).

Judge Richard Posner wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel in affirming a grant of summary judgment to window-cleaning company CCS against several current and former employees who claimed window washers didn't fall outside one of the exceptions to overtime in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Grumpy Posner Removes Judge From Case for Grumpiness, Errors

Judge Richard Posner is known for his way with words, especially his ability to criticize deserving parties in a caustic, humorous, and legally sound manner. So on first glance, it may seem strange that he'd criticize a district court judge for his "tone of derision that pervades his opinion" before reassigning the case on remand.

Except there is one big difference: Posner's opinions stand on solid ground. U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur's opinion, and his handling of an employment discrimination case, seem to have been far less stable, reports the ABA Journal. While Posner hesitated to call out Shadur by name in his opinion (hat tip to the ABA for digging up the district court opinion), his treatment of Shadur's work was otherwise classic, unrestrained Posner.

Adjunct Prof.'s Critical Letter to College Was Protected: 7th Cir.

Robin Meade was an adjunct professor at Moraine Valley Community College in the Chicago suburbs. While we recently blogged about why lawyers might want to be adjuncts, Meade was none too pleased with the way the college treated her and other adjuncts. She said so in a letter to the college, signed by her in her capacity as president of the Moraine Valley Adjunct Faculty Organization (MVAFO).

Two days later, Meade was fired. The college made it clear that she was fired for the letter she wrote. She sued -- which you'd do, right? Seems like the college retaliated for exercising her First Amendment rights. Incredibly, though, the district court dismissed her complaint for failure to state a claim.

7th Cir. Revives Nursing Home Hairdresser's ADA Claim

Debra Kauffman worked as a hairdresser at a nursing home. Part of her duties involved regular hairdresser-type stuff, but two days a week, she had to wheel residents who were in wheelchairs to and from their appointments in the nursing home's beauty shop. The trip from residential room to beauty shop took her 500 feet, at most, and over some ramps. Residents ranged in weight from 75 to 400 pounds, with an average of about 120 pounds.

Kauffman underwent surgery in 2010, requiring her not to push or lift anything during the recovery period. Her doctor wrote a letter to her employer saying so, but the employer said it couldn't accommodate her disability, so Kauffman quit and filed an ADA claim.