On April 30, 2024, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of an employer-defendant on equal pay, retaliation, discrimination, and hostile work environment claims. Rongere v. City of Rockford, No. 23-1761 (7th Cir. April 30, 2024). The plaintiff sued her former employer under the Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Illinois Human Rights Act, the Illinois Whistleblower Act, and Illinois common law.

The equal pay claim failed because the plaintiff did not identify adequate comparators. To establish a claim under the Equal Pay Act, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (i) different wages are paid to employees of the opposite sex; (ii) the employees do equal work which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility; and (iii) the employees have similar working conditions. To satisfy the second element, a plaintiff must show that the jobs being compared are substantially equal based on job performance and content, rather than job titles, classifications, or descriptions. There must be a common core of tasks that makes a significant portion of the jobs identical. A job title alone is insufficient. The plaintiff’s equal pay claim could not survive summary judgment because her actual work was different than her comparators’ work.

The retaliation claim failed for lack of protected activity. To establish a retaliation claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (i) she engaged in protected activity; (ii) suffered an adverse employment action; and (iii) there was a causal connection between the protected activity and adverse employment action. The legal standard for protected activity requires a plaintiff to show that she held an objectively reasonable belief that the employment action she opposed was unlawful. A retaliation claim does not necessarily fail because a court concludes the employer did not violate law. A Plaintiff must, however, demonstrate that she held an objectively reasonable belief that the employer did so.

The plaintiff argued that she held an objectively reasonable belief that the employer violated the Equal Pay Act by paying male employees more than female employees. The plaintiff claimed she engaged in protected activity when she informed her supervisor she was paid less than her male counterparts, despite carrying a heavier workload. However, she conceded that her actual work was different her comparators’ work. Consequently, her belief was not objectively reasonable. Absent protected activity, there is no valid retaliation claim.