On April 6, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant in a Title VII lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her employment was unlawfully terminated on the basis of her sex, race and national origin. Chaib v. The GEO Group, Inc., No. 15-1614 (7th Cir., 4/6/2016). The defendant contended that it fired the plaintiff for “unbecoming conduct” because she allegedly improperly extended her medical leave after a workplace injury. She alleged that she was a victim of employment discrimination as well as retaliation for internal complaints of workplace discrimination that she had submitted to the defendant’s human resources department.
The plaintiff took an extended medical leave of absence after she was injured at work. In the defendant’s view, she was malingering by taking six weeks off when she could have returned to work sooner. When she returned, the defendant fired her. The 7th Circuit determined that the plaintiff was terminated for non-discriminatory reasons related to her own conduct, and concluded that she failed to present evidence of discrimination on any basis. To defeat a summary judgment motion, a Title VII plaintiff must present evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to find that the defendant committed unlawful discrimination. The plaintiff was unable to demonstrate that her termination was motivated by a discriminatory animus under the direct or indirect method of proof. She relied on alleged workplace racist remarks, but they were not made by anyone involved in the termination decision, and were unrelated to the events and investigation that led to the termination decision. Without any connection between the remarks and termination decision, the remarks did not support her claim under the direct method. Under the indirect method, the plaintiff’s case also failed because she could not show that she was meeting the defendant’s legitimate job expectations (due to her misconduct) and because she could not identify any similarly situated employee outside of her protected classes who was treated more favorably than she was. Moreover, even if she could establish a prima facie case of employment discrimination, she presented no evidence to suggest that the defendant’s proffered reason for terminating her was pretext for unlawful discrimination. She adduced no evidence that the defendant did not sincerely believe that she was malingering, or that the defendant did not terminate her based on its sincerely held belief.