On September 9, 2014, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment on sexual harassment, racial harassment, and retaliation claims. Muhammad v. Caterpillar, Inc., No. 12-1723 (7th Cir., 9/9/2014). The plaintiff was subjected to derogatory remarks about his race and sexual orientation that were made made by three co-workers. Each time he reported the remarks to management, the company addressed the issue, and the co-workers did not make any more remarks. Other derogatory statements about the plaintiff’s race and sexual orientation were written on the bathroom walls. Every time the plaintiff reported the bathroom graffiti, the company painted over it (3 times). After the plaintiff reported the remarks and graffiti, he was suspended for violation of a workplace rule and insubordination. The 7th Circuit held that the plaintiff’s harassment claims failed because the company promptly addressed and stopped the harassment. The 7th Circuit rejected the plaintiff’s argument, that the company’s failure to discipline all of the co-workers supported his harassment claims. An employer’s obligation under Title VII is to prevent harassment, not discipline the harassers.
The 7th Circuit also found that there was no evidence that supported the plaintiff’s retaliation claim. Mere temporal proximity between the protected activity and adverse employment action, with nothing more, rarely supports a retaliation claim. Speculation is insufficient to avoid summary judgment. Additionally, because Title VII does not proscribe harassment based upon sexual orientation, the plaintiff had no valid retaliation claim based on his opposition to the remarks about his sexual orientation.