On January 29, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court’s entry of summary judgment on the plaintiff’s claims for national origin discrimination and retaliation. Yaroslav v. Means-Knaus Partners, L.P., Nos. 13-3302 & 14-2768 (7th Cir., 1-29-2015). Plaintiff, a custodian for thirteen years, alleged that his employer disciplined him and terminated his employment because of his Ukrainian national origin and in retaliation for filing charges of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Illinois Department of Human Rights. He alleged that his supervisor mocked his mixed use of Ukrainian and Polish, in front of his co-workers. He also alleged that his employer treated custodians who are not in his protected class more favorably than him. The 7th Circuit concluded that the plaintiff’s failure to meet the employer’s legitimate performance expectations doomed his employment discrimination claim under the indirect method of proof.
To establish a claim under the indirect method, the employee must satisfy each element: (1) member of a protected class; (2) meeting the employer’s legitimate job expectations; (3) suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) disparate treatment. The employee’s own opinion of his or her job performance is not relevant. The plaintiff, who was given five reprimands, including two suspensions, in less than three years, was unable to show that he was meeting the employer’s legitimate job expectations.
The plaintiff’s retaliation claims could also not survive summary judgment. He did not produce enough evidence of the required causal connection between his protected activity, the EEOC and IDHR complaints, and the disciplinary action and employment termination. Suspicious timing between the protected activity and adverse employment action, in connection with other evidence that supports an inference of causation, may be enough for a plaintiff to advance his or her retaliation claim past summary judgment. But a six-month gap in time and absence of other evidence warranted the entry of summary judgment on the plaintiff’s retaliation claim.