Summary Judgments in Employment Cases—Too Often?


Employment lawyer Paul Mollica discusses an employment discrimination case involving a summary judgment. The case, Malin v. Hospira, Inc., is the subject of a recent post in the Employment Law Blog.

Paul Mollica

Paul Mollica

The facts of the case are rather complex and worth a read. But the plaintiff’s case presented a Title VII claim and a Family and Medical Leave Act claim. Hospira’s lawyers filed for summary judgment, a common practice in employment discrimination cases. In these situations, the trial judge is presented with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pages of material plus the briefs of counsel for the parties. In this case, the trial judge sustained the motion, and the plaintiff appealed. The 7th Circuit reversed.

On the Title VII claim, Mollica explains, the trial court applied a “commonly-cited principle” that a long gap between the protected action and the adverse action negates any inference that the actions are connected. The appellate court cautioned that this guideline should not be mechanically applied. The court noted that “the record contains ample evidence to support the inference that Hospira retaliated against Malin for her 2003 sexual harassment complaint when it carried out the 2006 reorganization.”

As to the FMLA claim, the appellate court decided that the trial court had erred in its analysis of the timeline. Again, the appellate court concluded that there was a question for a jury to decide.

The court made a point of telling counsel that misuse of summary judgment practice was a mistake. "We caution Hospira and other parties tempted to adopt this approach to summary judgment practice that it quickly destroys their credibility with the court."

Paul W. Mollica joined Outten & Golden LLP as Of Counsel in 2010. He is a frequent author and lecturer (for lawyers and courts) in the area of employment discrimination. He is a two-term past president of the Chicago Council of Lawyers, a public-interest bar association. He has been selected as a Super Lawyer© in Illinois and has the highest, AV© rating from Martindale-Hubbell. He is licensed to practice in Illinois and New York. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.