7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Title VII Sex Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

On June 20, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant employer in a federal lawsuit in which the former employee plaintiff alleged that the employer discriminated against her on the basis of her sex, female, and retaliated against her on account of her prior complaints of employment discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). Nicholson v. City of Peoria, Illinois, et al., No. 16-4162 (7th Cir. June 20, 2017). In this case the plaintiff, a Peoria police officer, alleged that she was not reappointed to a certain position because of her sex, in violation of Title VII. The 7th Circuit, in its opinion, reiterated that it has "entirely done away with the distinction between 'direct' and 'indirect' evidence and methods of proof for Title VII discrimination claims....Evidence is evidence. Relevant evidence must be considered and irrelevant evidence disregarded, but no evidence should be treated differently from other evidence because it is labeled 'direct' or 'indirect'." The proper legal standard at the summary judgment stage for a Title VII employment discrimination claim "is simply whether the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that [the plaintiff's] sex caused her reassignment."

The record lacked any evidence to contradict the employer's position that the other officer was chosen over the plaintiff because of her better interview performance. Absent any admissible evidence that suggested that the employer's explanation was a pretext for sex discrimination, the employer was entitled to summary judgment on the gender discrimination claim. The plaintiff also alleged that her reassignment was retaliation for having made claims of discrimination in the past. To survive summary judgment on a claim of unlawful retaliation, the plaintiff must produce sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that: (1) she engaged in statutorily protected activity; (2) the defendants took a materially adverse employment action against her; and (3) there was a but-for causal connection between the two. The plaintiff's claim that she didn't keep the position she desired because she had made complaints of discrimination against the Department also failed. There was no evidence that the selection committee chose the other officer over the plaintiff in retaliation for her prior discrimination claims. The timing--more than a year between her protected activity and the adverse job action--instead of raising an inference of retaliation, actually weakened her retaliation claim. Thus, the plaintiff did not present any admissible evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that she was reassigned to patrol because of her gender or her prior complaints of discrimination.