On August 19, 2016, the 7th Circuit reversed the district court’s entry of summary judgment in an employment discrimination claim under Section 1981 and the Illinois Human Rights Act. Ortiz v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., No.15-2574 (7th Cir. 8/19/ 2016). The plaintiff worked as a freight broker for the defendant for seven years until he was discharged. The defendant claims that it fired the plaintiff for falsifying business records. The Plaintiff claims that the defendant fired him because of his Mexican ethnicity. He also claims that he was subjected to a hostile work environment in the form of ongoing ethnic slurs throughout his employment that increased in frequency and intensity in the months leading up to his discharge.

The sole substantive legal issue is whether a reasonable juror could conclude that the plaintiff would have kept his job if he had a different ethnicity and everything else had remained the same. Summary judgment was inappropriate because a reasonable juror could infer that the decision-makers harbored a discriminatory animus against Hispanics and fired him because of his ethnicity for using techniques that it tolerated when practiced by non-Hispanic brokers. Conflicting evidence warrants a trial.

Significantly, in this opinion the 7th Circuit finally abolished the separate direct and indirect methods of proof in employment discrimination cases (“the rat’s nest of surplus ‘tests’ removed from the law of the circuit”), and held that “district courts must stop separating ‘direct’ from ‘indirect’ evidence and proceeding as if they were subject to different legal standards.” All evidence “belongs in a single pile and must be evaluated as a whole” (and not under separate tests as direct or indirect evidence). Stating that the often confused “convincing mosaic” of evidence is not a legal test, the 7th Circuit also overruled a line of its prior opinions to the extent that they relied on “convincing mosaic” as a governing legal standard or requirement. “From now on, any decision of a district court that treats this phrase as a legal requirement in an employment discrimination case is subject to summary reversal, so that the district court can evaluate the evidence under the correct standard,” which is simply whether the evidence would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that the plaintiff’s protected factor caused the adverse employment action.