College Professor’s FMLA Retaliation Claims Dismissed

By February 27, 2015April 29th, 2015News

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a Chicago State University professor alleging he was twice passed over for promotion in retaliation for taking medical leave and for his prior discrimination case against the university.

In Carter v. Chicago State University, et al., Case No. 13-3367 (7th Cir. 2015), the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s summary judgment decision, holding that the plaintiff, Tollie Carter, failed to allege sufficient facts to support an inference of retaliation in his claims under the Family Medical Leave Act and Section 1981. Specifically, the court noted that temporal proximity between the protected activity and adverse employment action, by itself, is rarely sufficient to show a causal connection between the two.

Carter alleged he was passed over for promotion because he took part in two forms of protected activity, including: (1) taking medical leave under FMLA from January 29, 2008 through March 20, 2008; and (2) filing a discrimination lawsuit against the university in 2007. Carter claimed the refusal to promote him to department chair in May and acting department chair in November of 2008 was retaliatory and constituted violations of both FMLA and Section 1981.

The university prevailed at trial on Carter’s claim that he was retaliated against when he was not appointed to department chair. Carter’s retaliation claim for not being promoted to acting chair was dismissed by the trial court on summary judgment, and the dismissal was affirmed on appeal. The appellate court found that the only material fact alleged by Carter in support of his claims – the timing between the protected activities and refusal to appoint to the acting chair position – was not enough to support an inference of retaliatory motive.

The court also found that Carter failed to show that the person appointed to the acting chair position was less qualified. Specifically, the court noted that Carter failed to identify the criteria used by the university when choosing an acting department chair. Without the criteria, the court noted it is almost impossible to determine which candidate is more qualified. The court also noted that Carter previously served as department chair, beginning in January 1995, but was removed from that position in June 1996 due to poor performance.