On August 31, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer in a Title VII sex discrimination and retaliation lawsuit in which the former employee, a Human Resources Manager, alleged that her employment was terminated because of her sex, female, and in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment. Owens v. Old Wisconsin Sausage Company, Inc., No. 16-3875 (7th Cir. 8/31/2017). The plaintiff was the only female manager. Another manager commented to her that the employer tended to be a “boys’ club.” After the decision terminate her employment, the employer produced a memo that listed a myriad of performance-based and other reasons for her termination.
She alleged that her terminated was unlawful employment discrimination in violation of Title VII, as well as unlawful retaliation under Title VII and the FLSA. She claimed a multitude of discriminatory actions against her, but lacked evidence that they were related to her sex or that similarly-situated male employee were treated more favorably than her under similar circumstances. In its decision, the 7th Circuit stated that the correct standard on summary judgment in a gender discrimination case is whether the evidence would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that the plaintiff’s sex caused her termination. Courts should not distinguish between direct and indirect evidence and apply distinct legal standards to such evidence. In determining whether the evidence would permit a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the plaintiff’s sex caused her termination, the burden-shifting evidentiary framework of McDonnell Douglas remains relevant as a means of organizing, presenting, and assessing circumstantial evidence in frequently recurring factual patterns found in discrimination cases. In this case, rather than demonstrating that similarly-situated employees were treated differently, the evidence indicated that they were treated similarly. Thus, the district court properly granted summary judgment.