LOUDERMILK v. BEST PALLET CO. (February 18, 2011)
Kevin Loudermilk, an African-American male, worked as a laborer at the Best Pallet Co. He came to believe that the company treated its Hispanic employees more favorably. He claims that he complained without success. He even talked about filing an EEOC charge. One day, he took some pictures of his work area. A supervisor, Dan Lyons, directed him to stop. Loudermilk again voiced his concerns about the discriminatory work environment. Lyons told him to put it in writing. When Loudermilk handed Lyons his written complaint the next day, Lyons immediately fired him. Loudermilk brought suit under Title VII, alleging that Best Pallet fired him for opposing its discriminatory practices. Judge Reinhard (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to Best Pallet. He concluded that Loudermilk's only evidence, the timing of his discharge vis-à-vis the written complaint, was insufficient to establish causation. Loudermilk appeals.
In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Wood and Evans reversed and remanded. The Court rejected the district court's conclusion for several reasons. First, the court did not look at the evidence in the light most favorable to Loudermilk. Second, the several different reasons the company put forth for its actions (it told the EEOC that Loudermilk was let go as part of a reduction in force, it first told the court that Loudermilk resigned, and it later told the court that he was fired for taking pictures) could support an inference of pretext. Third, the Court rejected the notion that timing, by itself, can never support an inference of causation. It depends on the context. Here, the termination came immediately after a protected act. The Court concluded that the context could support a causation inference.