Heyl Royster


Heyl Royster


Discrimination, Retaliation, and Hostile Work Environment Claims Rejected by Seventh Circuit


By: Emily Perkins

The Seventh Circuit recently analyzed a case involving race and gender discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims in a complaint which originated in the Northern District of Illinois. In Abrego v. Wilkie, 907 F.3d 1004 (7th Cir. 2018), the plaintiff was a former dental assistant at a Veterans Affairs dental clinic, and alleged that he was discriminated against based on his gender (male) and race (Hispanic), that he was retaliated against for filing EEO complaints, and that he was subjected to a hostile work environment. The record established that the plaintiff was terminated because of poor job performance in dealing with dental patients, intimidating co-workers, and behaving disrespectfully toward his supervisor.

The district court granted the defendant dental clinic’s summary judgment motion. The plaintiff appealed to the Seventh Circuit arguing that he was discriminated against based on his gender and race and that other employees were treated more favorably. The Seventh Circuit held that the plaintiff failed to establish an inference of discrimination because he could not show that other employees were similarly situated or exhibited similar misconduct. Furthermore, the plaintiff failed to establish that his race or sex caused his suspension and/or termination of employment. Rather, the record established that the plaintiff’s employment was suspended and ultimately terminated for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons relating to issues of insubordination.

The plaintiff also alleged that he was retaliated against for filing three EEO complaints, which constituted protected activity. The Seventh Circuit rejected the plaintiff’s retaliation argument due to his failure to establish causation. The court concluded that the plaintiff was terminated for several legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons. Although the plaintiff could show that there existed close proximity between time he made discrimination complaints and adverse acts against him, he failed to present evidence to establish that the defendant's explanation for his removal was pretextual.

In his final allegation, the plaintiff claimed that his employer created a hostile work environment. He argued that his supervisors were short-tempered, hostile, unfairly critical, and disrespectful and that he was subjected to excessive monitoring. However, the court held that these conditions were not objectively offensive, severe, or pervasive and did not create a workplace permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult. The plaintiff also failed to present sufficient evidence to establish that the alleged harassment was based on any protected class or in retaliation for any protected activity. Therefore, his hostile work environment claim failed.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the defendant’s summary judgment motion, holding that each allegation was insufficient under the law. This case is another example from the Seventh Circuit which shows the importance of properly documenting poor performance and employee misconduct. It also reminds employers to accurately articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason when terminating an individual’s employment.