7th Circuit Employment Law News - U.S. Seventh Circuit
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Recent Employment Law Decisions

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.

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.

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.

What do you do with a questionable appeal of a questionable case from a formerly pro se plaintiff -- one who has hired and fired two lawyers, not counting his third lawyer, who now represents him on appeal?

Many courts would dismiss his claims in a cursory unpublished opinion, one that would be lost in a stack of unread, non-precedential judgments. Fortunately, Judge Richard Posner wanted to make a point in this opinion, albeit a minor one that has very little to do with the pro se plaintiff.

But legal points can wait -- let's first take a minute to review this entertaining example of the problem with pro se plaintiffs:

Anna Nicole Smith. Long has she been gone, but never will she be forgotten, especially not to those of us who have to deal with her legal legacy: Stern v. Marshall. The Supreme Court held that non-Article III bankruptcy courts could not enter final judgment on unresolved state law counterclaims. Now, the Court will decide whether these Stern claims can be waived, implicitly or explicitly.

And if non-Article III courts' jurisdiction doesn't interest you, we'd bet that the jurisdiction of an Article III court to review the sufficiency of a government agency's statutorily mandated duty sure will! The EEOC claims that its mandated settlement efforts are beyond the scrutiny of the courts, and the Seventh Circuit agreed. Will SCOTUS?

Over the past several years, "Right to Work" laws have been in vogue. Twenty-four states now have these laws, according to The Washington Post, which prevent unions from requiring workers either to join a union or pay a fee to support the union.

Today, two days before the Indiana Supreme Court is slated to hear a similar case, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a challenge to Indiana's right to work statute, finding that it wasn't preempted by federal labor law.

The protests, and dramatic exit of Wisconsin State Senate Democrats, surrounding the legislation of Wisconsin's Act 10 in 2011 are still fresh in our memory, yet they occurred three years ago. The controversial act has already been before the Seventh Circuit on constitutional grounds, and the challenges failed.

This week, in a second case, the Seventh Circuit again found that Wisconsin's Act 10 is constitutional.

Margarita Zayas was an ultrasound technician employed at Rockford Memorial Hospital from November 1999 to April 2011. Though she received positive work evaluations as recently as 2008 and 2009, she was terminated because of repeatedly sending disrespectful emails to her direct supervisor Larry Griesman.

Over the course of one year, Zayas sent a series of insubordinate emails to Griesman, despite several meetings and warnings. Even after Zayas received a formal written warning, she persisted in sending emails that "were perceived as negative, unprofessional and disrespectful towards her managers and peers." Because she did not heed her employer's warnings, she was terminated in April 2011, at the age of fifty-five, the oldest ultrasound tech at Rockford Memorial Hospital.

On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Sandifer, et al. v. United States Steel Corp., a case originating in the Seventh Circuit. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the Seventh Circuit's decision.

As the Court's most outspoken Originalist, it comes as no surprise that Justice Scalia authored the opinion of the Court which turned on statutory construction, which all Justices joined, with Justice Sotomayor's exception to one footnote.

The Seventh Circuit is a delight to cover -- how could it not be when you have the likes of Posner and Easterbrook writing opinions? And with such high-profile judges on the bench, the Seventh Circuit is in the news sometimes as much for its personalities as it is for the law coming out of the jurisdiction.

As we take this time to get prepped for what 2014 has to offer, here's a look back at 2013 to see the legal highlights from the Seventh Circuit: