CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit reinstated a female professional driver's sex discrimination suit against the Teamsters, upbraiding the district judge for the "derision" with which he dismissed plaintiff's case.
Maura Stuart is a commercial driver who currently drives school buses for a living, but wishes to drive commercial vans in movie and television productions, a union job which pays about twice as much.
In Chicago, such drivers belong to the Movie/Trade Show Division of Local 727 of the Teamsters Union, which has agreements with every production company in the city that the company shall hire only drivers referred to it by the union.
In 70 years, the division has never referred a female driver to a production company.
Stuart joined the union in 2010 and submitted a referral application, but has never received a single referral in four years.
She made repeated calls to the union's business agent, who told her she was on the movie/trade show referral list - but in fact, no such list exists. The agent eventually told her to stop calling him, that he would call her when he had something for her. Later, he said she was not receiving work because she only had a Class B commercial license, even when men with a Class B license had been referred by the division.
After Stuart filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the union's general counsel told Stuart she was not a member of the union even though it had accepted her dues payments for years, and issued her a membership card.
U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur dismissed Stuart's complaint with prejudice, describing Stuart as "hoisted by her own petard," because her complaint includes a detailed account of the union's treatment of women drivers. The judge inferred that "she knew full well of the 'boys club' (male-only) situation that existed in the movie/trade show," which began well before the 300-day period leading to her EEOC charge.
U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner was not impressed with this reasoning.
"So what? There is no rule that a plaintiff who has been repeatedly discriminated against by her employer cannot challenge any of the discriminatory acts under Title VII unless she files her EEOC charge within 300 days after the first such act. That would be an absurd rule," Posner said, writing for the three-judge panel.
Under such reasoning, an employee would have to complain about any inconsequential act of discrimination in order to retain the right to sue over a potential future discriminatory act.
Shadur also mistakenly ruled that the "failure to refer" based on a person's sex, unlike the refusal to hire, cannot violate Title VII.
"The district judge's analysis if accepted would open a large gap in Title VII," Posner said. "Suppose a woman applies for a job as a crane operator on construction sites, a traditionally male job. The employer has an ironclad but of course undisclosed rule of never hiring women for such jobs. A woman applies and the employer tells her it has no openings now but will notify her as soon as there is one; but in fact the employer has decided that, pursuant to its policy, it will not notify her of any openings. 301 days go by and the employer informs her: 'Haha; we don't hire women; you'll have to file your EEOC charge yesterday if you want to sue us.'"
Given the "unmistakeable (and to us incomprehensible) tone of derision that pervades [the district judge's] opinion," the court ruled that Stuart's case should be heard before a different judge on remand.
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