On September 9, 2014, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment on Title VII race discrimination and retaliation claims. Moultrie v. Penn Aluminum International,No. 13-2206 (7th Cir., 9/9/2014). The 7th Circuit found that there was insufficient evidence to support the plaintiff’s claims that he was demoted because of his race and in retaliation for complaining about discrimination. In order to establish a claim for employment discrimination, an employee must demonstrate that: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) his job performance met his employer’s reasonable expectations; (3) an adverse job action was taken against him; and (4) similarly-situated employees outside of his protected class were treated more favorably. If the employee meets these elements, the employer has the opportunity to produce a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse job action. This shifts the burden of proof to the employee to show that the employer’s proffered reason is pretext for discrimination. InMoultrie, the plaintiff failed to establish that his job performance met his employer’s reasonable expectations. He had been written up for multiple performance problems and admitted to dozing off while driving a fork-lift truck. He also failed to identify a similarly-situated employee outside of his protected class who was treated more favorably. The one employee that the plaintiff identified had also been terminated and, therefore, was not treated more favorably. Because the plaintiff failed to meet his initial burden of proof, pretext analysis was unnecessary.
The plaintiff also failed to meet his burden of proof to establish a retaliation claim. In order to establish a Title VII retaliation claim under the direct method of proof, an employee must show that: (1) he engaged in protected activity; (2) adverse employment action was taken against him; and (3) there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. Mere speculation based only on suspicious timing with nothing more does not raise an inference of retaliation. The plaintiff did not produce enough evidence to establish a nexus between his protected activity and his demotion. Thus, he could not advance a retaliation claim under the direct method. He could not make out a retaliationclaim under the indirect method for the same reasons that his employment discrimination claim had failed.