On March 4, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order that granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s retaliation claims that she had filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). Boston v. U.S. Steel Corporation, No. 15-2795 (7th Cir., 3/4/2016). The plaintiff worked for U.S Steel for 18 years before she was laid off, along with a number of other employees. She filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), in which she alleged that she was laid off in retaliation for an earlier EEOC discrimination charge. She filed a lawsuit in federal court in which she sought relief for retaliation under Title VII and the ADEA, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress under Illinois common law.
The plaintiff was unable to establish her retaliation claims under the direct or indirect methods of proof or under the “cat’s paw” theory of liability. Under the direct method, she was unable to provide evidence that her filing of the prior EEOC charge was a substantial or motivating factor in her supervisor’s termination decision. There was no evidence that he knew of her charge or decided to terminate her based on the charge. She was also unsuccessful under the indirect method in the absence of evidence that she was meeting her employer’s legitimate expectations or that she was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees. She also lacked evidence to show that the employer’s proffered nondiscriminatory reason was pretext for retaliation. Under the “cat’s paw” doctrine, the evidence was insufficient to show that the employee in question had a retaliatory motive or animus based on the plaintiff’s filing of her EEOC charge.
It is worth noting that on a separate issue of timeliness, the 7th Circuit stated that courts may look to time-barred acts as support for timely claims, citing its decision in Davis v. Con-Way Transp. Cent. Express, Inc., 368 F.3d 776, 786 n.4 (7th Cir. 2004). This provides authority on the contentious issue of whether discriminatory actions that occurred outside of the 300-day limitation period are admissible as evidence to support discrimination claims based on adverse job actions that took place within 300 days of the filing of the EEOC charge. The answer is yes, but only as evidence of the timely claims, not as claims based on the untimely acts.