Dayton v. Oakton Community College, No. 18-1668 (7th Cir. 2018)

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Justia Opinion Summary

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment in an action alleging claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 42 U.S.C. 1983, and Illinois law. Plaintiff filed suit on behalf of himself and a certified class of similarly situated part-time and adjunct faculty, challenging Oakton Community College's change in hiring practices such that the college would no longer employ retired state employees if they were also beneficiaries of the State University Retirement System.

In regard to the ADEA claim, the court held that the district court applied the appropriate burden of proof where the ADEA and the cases interpreting it make clear that a policy may have a disparate impact on older workers as long as the employer shows that the policy was based on a reasonable factor other than age (RFOA); the district court correctly concluded that a reasonable jury would be compelled to find that Oakton's reason was an RFOA; and the district court properly required defendants to prove that Oakton's policy was, in fact, based on reasonable factors other than age. Likewise, the section 1983 claim failed because there was no ADEA violation. Finally, plaintiff's retaliatory discharge claim lacked merit.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 18 1668 BARRY DAYTON, Plaintiff Appellant, v. OAKTON COMMUNITY COLLEGE, et al., Defendants Appellees. ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. No. 1:16 cv 06812 — Matthew F. Kennelly, Judge. ____________________ ARGUED SEPTEMBER 27, 2018 — DECIDED OCTOBER 11, 2018 ____________________ Before FLAUM, MANION, and SYKES, Circuit Judges. FLAUM, Circuit Judge. Traditionally, Oakton Community College employed retired state employees as part time and adjunct faculty. But in November 2014, Oakton changed its hiring practices so that as of July 1, 2015, Oakton would no longer employ retired state employees if they were also bene ficiaries of the State University Retirement System. This deci sion a ected eighty four individuals, including Barry Day ton. As a result, Dayton filed this lawsuit, on behalf of himself 2 No. 18 1668 and a certified class of similarly situated part time and ad junct faculty, against Oakton and several individuals who were involved in adopting the policy,1 alleging claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 623; 42 U.S.C § 1983; and Illinois law. The district court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment. We a rm. I. Background A. Factual Background2 Oakton Community College participates in the State Uni versity Retirement System (“SURS”), as provided by the Illi nois Pension Code. See 40 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/15 101 et seq. Eli gible employees make contributions to SURS until they retire, at which point they may begin collecting a retirement annuity from SURS. Once an annuitant retires and begins receiving benefits, the annuitant may return to work, but the annuitant is subject to earnings limitations under SURS. See id. § 5/15 139(b). In 2012, the Illinois legislature amended the SURS return to work provisions to impose a penalty on covered employers that employ “a ected annuitant[s].” Id. § 5/15 139.5(e). Since the enactment, the legislature has refined the definition of an a ected annuitant several times. When Oakton changed its 1 Dayton named the following individuals as defendants: Margaret Lee, Oakton’s president at the time the policy was enacted; Joianne Smith, Oak ton’s current president and member of the president’s advisory council at the time the policy was enacted; and Michael Anthony, Karl Brooks, Maya Evans, Tom Hamel, Collette Hand, Bonnie Lucas, and Mum Martens, members of the advisory council at the time the policy was enacted. 2 The facts are undisputed except where otherwise noted. No. 18 1668 3 hiring policy in November 2014, the second version of the statute, which was e ective from November 19, 2013 to May 31, 2015, was the operative version; it provided: A person receiving a retirement annuity from [SURS] becomes an ‘a ected annuitant’ on the first day of the academic year following the ac ademic year in which the annuitant first meets the following condition: … While receiving a re tirement annuity …, the annuitant was em ployed on or after August 1, 2013 by one or more [SURS covered] employers … and received or became entitled to receive during an academic year compensation for that employment in ex cess of 40% of his or her highest annual earnings prior to retirement.3 Id. § 5/15 139.5(b). The third version of the statute took e ect on June 1, 2015, which was one month before Oakton began enforcing its policy, and it remained valid until December 7, 2017. Under that version, an employee could also become an a ected annuitant if “[t]he annuitant received an annualized retirement annuity … of at least $10,000.” Id. § 5/15 139.5(b)(3). The fourth and current version of the statute, which went into e ect on December 8, 2017, includes both conditions. Covered employers who employ an a ected annuitant must make a SURS contribution equal to “12 times the 3 The statute exempts the following sources of compensation from the lim itation: “compensation paid from federal, corporate, foundation, or trust funds or grants of State funds that identify the principal investigator by name.” 40 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/15 139.5(b). 4 No. 18 1668 amount of the gross monthly retirement annuity payable to the annuitant for the month in which the first paid day of that employment in that academic year occurs.” Id. § 5/15 139.5(e). Before the legislature amended the statute, Oakton often employed individuals who had retired and who were receiv ing a SURS retirement annuity. Following the amendment, Oakton attempted to comply with the new requirements by monitoring the earnings of the annuitants it employed throughout the 2013–2014 academic year. Despite these ef forts, a monitoring error led Oakton to employ a ected annu itants inadvertently; the mistake cost Oakton approximately $75,000 in penalties. When a human resources specialist discovered the over sight, she informed Oakton’s chief human resources o cer, Mum Martens. In turn, Martens advanced the issue to Oak ton’s then president, Margaret Lee. While evaluating how to respond to this situation, the president’s advisory council considered the fact that some annuitants Oakton employed were not at risk of becoming a ected annuitants under the second version of the statute (because there were caps on ad junct compensation and on the number of “lecture hour equivalents” adjunct faculty could teach per semester). But, after weighing the risk that another monitoring error could cost the college thousands of dollars, the council came to the view that it would be fiscally irresponsible to employ any an nuitant, regardless of whether she was likely to become an af fected annuitant. Ultimately, Lee decided that Oakton should abandon employing all SURS annuitants. No. 18 1668 5 In November 2014, Oakton announced its decision to no longer employ SURS annuitants e ective July 1, 2015.4 Mar tens sent an e mail to all annuitants Oakton employed, ex plaining that the decision was based on “challenges” Oakton experienced with monitoring annuitants’ earnings and “con cerns” Oakton had about SURS’s administration and enforce ment of the new statutory requirements. Several nona ected annuitants asked Oakton to reconsider the decision and filed grievances. Oakton did not rescind its policy. In total, Oakton refused to rehire approximately eighty four annuitants because of the policy. Each of those individu als was over the age of fifty five. Although Oakton continued to employee individuals over the age of forty after the policy went into e ect, those individuals were not annuitants. B. Procedural Background Approximately one year after filing a charge with the Illi nois Department of Human Rights, Dayton filed a complaint with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, bringing claims under the ADEA, § 1983, and Illi nois law. Two other annuitants, Daniel Filipek and Donald Krzyzak, also filed individual suits against Oakton, alleging violations of the ADEA and the Illinois Human Rights Act, 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/2 102. The district court consolidated the three lawsuits, and on May 17, 2017, it granted plainti s’ motion for collective and class certification. The certified class was de fined as: “all part time and adjunct faculty who were denied 4 The policy had one exception: Oakton would still employ annuitants if the president determined that there was a specific and unique need to em ploy that individual. 6 No. 18 1668 employment at Oakton Community College as the result of its policy not to employ or reemploy State Universities Retire ment System annuitants and who are not ‘a ected annui tants.’” On February 27, 2018, the district court granted defend ants’ motion for summary judgment. Dayton appealed; Fil ipek and Krzyzak did not. II. Discussion We review a district court’s grant of a motion for summary judgment de novo, interpreting all facts and drawing all rea sonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. O’Brien v. Caterpillar Inc., 900 F.3d 923, 928 (7th Cir. 2018). “Summary judgment is appropriate where there are no genuine issues of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a mat ter of law.” Hess v. Bd. of Trs. of S. Ill. Univ., 839 F.3d 668, 673 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Fed R. Civ. P. 56(a)). And summary judgment is not appropriate “if the evidence is such that a rea sonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). We may a rm the grant of summary judgment on any ground sup ported in the record, so long as the parties adequately pre sented the issue in the district court and the nonmoving party had an opportunity to contest it. O’Brien, 900 F.3d at 928. A. The ADEA The ADEA prohibits taking adverse actions against em ployees who are forty years old or older because of their age. 29 U.S.C. §§ 623(a), 631(a). To prevail on a disparate impact claim, a plainti must demonstrate that a “specific, facially neutral employment practice caused a significantly dispropor tionate adverse impact based on age.” Carson v. Lake County, No. 18 1668 7 865 F.3d 526, 536 (7th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted). Unlike dis parate treatment claims, disparate impact claims do not re quire proof of discriminatory motive.5 Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters v. United States, 431 U.S. 324, 335 n.15 (1977). If a plainti establishes a prima facie case for a disparate impact claim, the defendant may avoid liability by showing that the policy was based on a reasonable factor other than age (“RFOA”). O’Brien, 900 F.3d at 928 (citing 29 U.S.C. § 623(f)(1)). To establish this a rmative defense, a defendant must show that the disparate impact was “reasonably de signed to further or achieve a legitimate business purpose” and that it was “administered in a way that reasonably achieves that purpose in light of the particular facts and cir cumstances that were known, or should have been known, to the employer.” Id. at 931 (quoting 29 C.F.R. § 1625.7(e)(1)). When courts assess whether an RFOA exists, they need not consider whether there existed alternative ways the employer could have achieved its goals without causing a disparate im pact on a protected class. Id. As such, the a rmative defense is a “relatively light burden” for employers to carry. Id. (cita tion omitted). The district court found that Oakton’s decision not to em ploy any annuitants was “likely” su cient to establish a prima facie case for disparate impact under the ADEA; but, it also determined that a reasonable jury would be compelled to conclude that Oakton’s decision was based on an RFOA. 5 Plaintiffs did not bring a disparate treatment claim, and they do not raise that theory of liability on appeal; the district court addressed the dispar ate treatment theory of liability in its decision because Filipek and Krzyzak raised it in their companion cases. 8 No. 18 1668 Plainti s maintain that the court’s reasoning was flawed. First, plainti s contend that the district court failed to properly place the burden on Oakton to prove that its policies did not have a disparate impact on a protected class. Second, plainti s say the district court did not engage in a fact inten sive inquiry or otherwise discuss Oakton’s pro ered factors in light of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) regulations. And third, plainti s assert that the dis trict court applied the wrong standard of review, requiring only a rational basis rather than the heightened standard re quired by the ADEA and the EEOC’s regulations. 1. The Burden of Proof First, to support their argument that Oakton had the bur den to prove its policies do not have a disparate impact, plain ti s rely on the Court’s opinions in Smith v. City of Jackson, 544 U.S. 228 (2005), and Meachum v. Knolls Atomic Power Labora tory, 554 U.S. 84 (2008). Plainti s misinterpret those cases. In Smith, the Court held that the ADEA authorizes dispar ate impact claims. 544 U.S. at 232. Drawing on a disparate impact case under Title VII, Smith explained that to state such a claim under the ADEA, a plainti must identify “‘the specific employment practices that are allegedly responsible for any observed statistical disparities,’” and that “it is not enough to simply … point to a generalized policy that leads to such an impact.” Id. at 241 (quoting Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio, 490 U.S. 642, 656 (1989)). The Court further concluded that an employer can avoid liability under the ADEA so long as its decision was “based on ‘a reasonable facto[r] other than age’ that responded to the [employer’s] legitimate goal.” Id. at 242 (alteration in original) (citation omitted). This is true regard less of whether “there may have been other reasonable ways No. 18 1668 9 for the [employer] to achieve its goals” because unlike Title VII’s business necessity test, which asks whether alternatives that do not result in a disparate impact are available for the employer to achieve its goals, the ADEA’s reasonableness in quiry includes “no such requirement.” Id. at 243. Meacham discussed and applied Smith. The defendant in Meacham argued that the RFOA should be read as an “elabo ration of an element of liability.” 554 U.S. at 95. The Court dis agreed. It explained: [I]n [Smith], we made it clear that in the typical disparate impact case, the employer’s practice is “without respect to age” and its adverse im pact (though “because of age”) is “attributable to a nonage factor”; so action based on a “factor other than age” is the very premise for dispar ate impact liability in the first place, not a nega tion of it or a defense to it. The RFOA defense in a disparate impact case, then, is not focused on the asserted fact that a non age factor was at work; we assume it was. The focus of the de fense is that the factor relied upon was a “rea sonable” one for the employer to be using. Rea sonableness is a justification categorically dis tinct from the factual condition “because of age” and not necessarily correlated with it in any par ticular way: a reasonable factor may lean more heavily on older workers, as against younger ones, and an unreasonable factor might do just the opposite. Id. at 96. The Court emphasized that the business necessity test has “no place in ADEA disparate impact cases” because 10 No. 18 1668 it would be senseless to require a showing that alternative practices would have a less discriminatory e ect “when eve ryone knows that the choice of a practice relying on a ‘reason able’ non age factor is good enough to avoid liability.” Id. at 97, 99. In short, Meacham and Smith hold that the burdens of proof and persuasion fall on the employer as to the RFOA, but that employers need not defend their selection of one policy over a narrower policy. Thus, neither Smith nor Meacham support plainti s’ argument that the district court should have re quired defendants to prove that Oakton’s policy did not have a disparate impact on older employees. Put simply, the ADEA and the cases interpreting it make clear that a policy may have a disparate impact on older workers as long as the employer shows that the policy was based on an RFOA. The district court applied the appropriate burden of proof here. 2. The EEOC Regulations Next, plainti s point to the EEOC regulation defining rea sonable factor other than age. It states, “[An RFOA] is a non age factor that is objectively reasonable when viewed from the position of a prudent employer mindful of its responsibilities under the ADEA under like circumstances.” 29 C.F.R. § 1625.7(e)(1). Whether an RFOA exists “must be decided on the basis of all the particular facts and circumstances sur rounding each individual situation.” Id. To establish the de fense, “an employer must show that the employment practice was both reasonably designed to further or achieve a legiti mate business purpose and administered in a way that rea sonably achieves that purpose in light of the particular facts and circumstances that were known, or should have been No. 18 1668 11 known, to the employer.” Id. The regulation provides a non exhaustive list of considerations that may be relevant: (i) The extent to which the factor is related to the employer’s stated business purpose; (ii) The extent to which the employer defined the factor accurately and applied the factor fairly and accurately, including the extent to which managers and supervisors were given guidance or training about how to apply the fac tor and avoid discrimination; (iii) The extent to which the employer limited supervisors’ discretion to assess employees sub jectively, particularly where the criteria that the supervisors were asked to evaluate are known to be subject to negative age based stereotypes; (iv) The extent to which the employer assessed the adverse impact of its employment practice on older workers; and (v) The degree of the harm to individuals within the protected age group, in terms of both the ex tent of injury and the numbers of persons ad versely a ected, and the extent to which the em ployer took steps to reduce the harm, in light of the burden of undertaking such steps. Id. § 1625.7(e)(2). Just as “[n]o specific consideration or com bination of considerations need be present for a di erentia tion to be based on reasonable factors other than age,” it is also true that “the presence of one of these considerations 12 No. 18 1668 [does not] automatically establish the defense.” Id. § 1625.7(e)(3).6 Plainti s say the district court did not perform a fact in tensive inquiry, and if it had, the district court would have found that plainti s raised disputes of material fact as to the regulation’s considerations. First, plainti s argue Oakton’s policy was not reasonable because the decision was not re lated to Oakton’s stated business purpose—avoiding a SURS penalty—as the policy excluded nona ected annuitants. See id. § 1625.7(e)(2)(i). Second, plainti s argue that Oakton’s pol icy was not reasonable because Oakton did not address the adverse impact on the a ected class; instead, the architect of the policy prioritized equity between retirees over compliance with the new requirements (knowing that not all retirees were a ected annuitants). See id. § 1625.7(e)(2)(iv). Finally, plain ti s argue that Oakton’s policy was not reasonable because Oakton did not attempt to reduce the harm to the class, as it abandoned an e ective monitoring system in favor of not monitoring at all. See id. § 1625.7(e)(2)(v). Defendants challenge the notion that the district court was required to rely on the regulation’s considerations. But, even if that type of analysis was required, defendants believe the 6 In the EEOC’s final rulemaking, it emphasized that “the RFOA determi nation involves a fact intensive inquiry,” and that “[t]he RFOA defense necessarily requires more than merely a showing that the employer’s ac tion was not irrational or not arbitrary”; otherwise, the effect would be to “nullify” Smith and Meacham and to “undermine the intent of Congress to address ‘the consequences of employment practices, not simply the moti vation.’” Disparate Impact and Reasonable Factors Other Than Age Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 77 Fed. Reg. 19,080 02, 19,082, 19,084–85 (March 30, 2012) (quoting Smith, 544 U.S. at 238–39). No. 18 1668 13 district court complied with the regulation because plainti s raised similar arguments about those considerations at sum mary judgment, and the district court considered (but re jected) those arguments. We agree. Specifically, the district court acknowledged plainti s’ ev idence that Oakton knew that a significant number of annui tants would not be a ected annuitants, and that the inadvert ent employment of an a ected annuitant (and subsequent penalty) was only caused by a monitoring error by one human resources specialist. The district court agreed with plainti s that such evidence showed that a blanket ban on employing annuitants was not the only option available to Oakton. How ever, the district court properly determined that such evi dence did not preclude summary judgment for defendants. Oakton is not required to implement a narrowly tailored pol icy; it is su cient that it adopted a policy that was based on an RFOA. The district court also discussed plainti s’ evidence of Oakton’s chief human resource o cer Martens’s statement that Oakton opted not to distinguish between annuitants and a ected annuitants because of equitable considerations. The district court did not agree with plainti s that the statement was e ectively an admission that Oakton did not want to em ploy people in a certain age range. Rather, it understood the statement as consistent with Oakton’s overarching explana tion and evidence that it sought to avoid any risk of a repeat mistake. In an e ort to challenge the credibility of defendants’ prof fered reasons for the policy, plainti s attempt to create a dis pute of fact about the extent of “the burden” defendants faced in monitoring annuitants. For example, plainti s assert that 14 No. 18 1668 Oakton already monitors the number of hours its employees work to ensure compliance with the A ordable Care Act (“ACA”)—the implication being that monitoring for SURS compliance is not so much more burdensome to warrant the policy change. While it is true that the district court did not address this specific point, Martens’s deposition testimony re garding the ACA does not controvert the evidence about de fendants’ reasons for adopting a policy to no longer employ annuitants. Indeed, as Oakton’s then president Lee stated at her deposition, the monitoring calculations could be complex, and the risk of a mistake was too great: Q. Counsel was asking you that … you now know that for a fact that there [are] certain indi viduals who the college has made a decision to no longer employ indefinitely based on their status as a SURS annuitant who would never cause a penalty to the college, correct? A. No. Not necessarily. Q. You haven’t heard that today? A. No. Well, there are di erent contributing fac tors. For example, if we look at the 10,000 ex emption that came in in [sic] sometime Decem ber or January, then we had instances and ex amples of individuals who were very close to that number like 9,900 something and because as an annuitant, you receive an annual cost of living adjustment that was 3 percent, they could e ectively go over that 10,000 and we would be aware of that and then we would receive a pen alty as a result. So there was [sic] still risk factors No. 18 1668 15 that were involved that from my perspective I didn’t feel the college should take moving for ward. Q. What about the individuals who make so much money that the 40 percent could never be reached based upon the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement? A. From my perspective, it was an equity issue so if we were looking at the nonreemployment of SURS annuitants, to me that meant all sorts of annuitants. A reasonable factfinder could not infer from this evidence that defendants’ reasons for adopting the policy were not credible. The mere fact that the risk of a several thousand dol lar penalty loomed large is enough, under these circum stances, to require a factfinder to conclude that defendants based the policy on an RFOA. In sum, although the district court did not cite or expressly refer to each of the regulation’s considerations, the district court did not run afoul of the regulation. It performed a fact intensive inquiry and found that Oakton adopted the policy to prevent the mistaken employment of an a ected annuitant and the resulting penalty. Based on this rationale, the district court correctly concluded that a reasonable jury would be compelled to find that Oakton’s reason was an RFOA.7 7 Plaintiffs also fault the district court for “overread[ing] and misap ply[ing]” our decision in Carson “to provide a blanket defense where pen sion status is used to support an RFOA defense.” See 865 F.3d 526. Accord ing to plaintiffs, Carson is distinguishable from this case because there, the 16 No. 18 1668 3. The Standard of Review In plainti s’ view, the reason Oakton pro ered for its pol icy was “nothing more than speculation unsupported by evi dence or empirical data.” They maintain that the defense could only survive rational basis review, and because the dis trict court accepted this reason, plainti s conclude that the district court must have used the wrong standard in review ing defendants’ pro ered reason. We disagree with the premise of this argument. First, Oak ton’s concern was not speculative. Oakton had already tried the strategy of employing annuitants with the intention of monitoring their earnings to avoid receiving a SURS penalty, and that strategy failed. There is no evidence that the circum stances have changed in a way that would guarantee Oakton would not make the same mistake again if it continued to em ploy annuitants. That is proof positive that the risk of a repeat mistake remains. More fundamentally, the district court did not merely defer to defendants’ pro ered reasons for adopt ing the policy. Rather, it required defendants to prove that Oakton’s policy “was, in fact, based on reasonable factors employer only terminated the employees necessary to comply with fed eral law; whereas here, Oakton terminated employees who were not im pacted by the new requirements and did not affect Oakton’s compliance with the new requirements. Here, though, defendants were not seeking mere compliance with federal law. The reason defendants adopted the policy was to avoid any risk of penalties, and Oakton only refused to re hire individuals whose employment raised that risk. The district court’s discussion of Carson was appropriate. No. 18 1668 17 other than age.” That was the appropriate standard to apply, and defendants met that standard.8 We a rm the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of defendants on plainti s’ ADEA claim. B. Section 1983 “Section 1983 does not create substantive rights.” Levin v. Madigan, 692 F.3d 607, 611 (7th Cir. 2012). Rather, § 1983 “op erates as a ‘means for vindicating federal rights conferred elsewhere.’” Id. (quoting Paudula v. Leimbach, 656 F.3d 595, 600 (7th Cir. 2011)). Since there is no ADEA violation here, there are no federal rights for plainti s to vindicate under § 1983. We a rm the district court’s decision to award defendants summary judgment on this claim. C. Retaliatory Discharge Retaliatory discharge is a “limited and narrow tort” in Il linois. Jacobson v. Knepper & Moga, P.C., 706 N.E.2d 491, 492 (Ill. 1998). To state such a claim, plainti s must show that they were discharged in retaliation for their activities, and that 8 Plaintiffs cite Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents for the proposition that “the ADEA standard and the rational basis test are ‘significantly different.’” 528 U.S. 62, 87 (2000) (quoting W. Air Lines, Inc. v. Criswell, 472 U.S. 400, 421 (1985)); see also id. at 86 (“The [ADEA] … prohibits substantially more state employment decisions and practices than would likely be held un constitutional under the … rational basis standard.”). Kimel is not helpful to plaintiffs’ argument because the district court properly analyzed plain tiffs’ claim, determining that defendant’s policy was based on a “reasona ble factor other than age.” Thus, the district court did not use a rational basis test. 18 No. 18 1668 their discharge “violates a clear mandate of public policy.” Te ruggi v. CIT Grp./Capital Fin., Inc., 709 F.3d 654, 661 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Blount v. Stroud, 904 N.E.2d 1, 9 (Ill. 2009)). Defendants assert that we lack jurisdiction over plainti s’ retaliatory discharge claim and, in any event, that plainti s cannot establish a prima facie case for retaliatory discharge. Turning first to the timeliness issue, we note that the tort of retaliatory discharge is subject to the one year statute of limitations under the Illinois Tort Immunity Act, 745 Ill. Comp. Stat. 10/8 101(a). See Halleck v. County of Cook, 637 N.E.2d 1110, 1113 (Ill. App. Ct. 1994). According to defend ants, plainti s’ claims accrued in November 2014, when they first learned about Oakton’s policy. Since plainti s did not file a complaint alleging retaliatory discharge until June 29, 2016, defendants’ argument continues, plainti s exceeded the one year statute of limitations. Plainti s contend that their claim is timely because actual termination is a prerequisite for a retaliatory discharge claim under Illinois law. So, plainti s maintain that their action could not have accrued until a final decision was made about their employment on July 1, 2015, less than a year prior to the date of their complaint. We agree. In Thomas v. Guardsmark, Inc., we considered whether an employee was e ectively discharged when he was indefi nitely suspended, and in turn, whether the six month contrac tual limitations period began to run at the time of the suspen sion. 381 F.3d 701 (7th Cir. 2004). We started with a general statement of Illinois law that “a limitations period begins to run when facts exist that authorize one party to maintain an No. 18 1668 19 action against another.” Id. at 707 (quoting Feltmeier v. Felt meier, 798 N.E.2d 75, 85 (Ill. 2003)). We also recognized that there is no claim for retaliatory constructive discharge in Illi nois; instead, an actual termination is required to state a retal iatory discharge claim. Id. at 707–08 (citing cases). Therefore, we held that the plainti ’s claim was not time barred because his suspension was not equivalent to a discharge. Id. at 708. Though Thomas considered a limitations period from an employment agreement, and not the one year limitations pe riod from the Illinois Tort Immunity Act, it makes clear that under Illinois law, a retaliatory discharge claim accrues at the time of termination. Thus, plainti s’ retaliatory discharge claim is not time barred under the Tort Immunity Act. Nevertheless, plainti s’ claim for retaliatory discharge cannot survive summary judgment. They did not present suf ficient evidence to show either that they were terminated in response to their participation in SURS or that their termina tion violated public policy. Plainti s contend that their “participation in SURS was the sine qua non for their termination.” They argue that they raised material facts showing that Oakton’s policy was directly based on the class members’ exercise of their right to collect retirement benefits from SURS. They point to internal com munications about “questions from existing annuitants who [were] willing to suspend their annuity in order to return to teaching,” as evidence of members of the class being forced to choose between employment and receiving pension contribu tions. In response, defendants argue that the undisputed evi dence showed that when Oakton decided to discontinue 20 No. 18 1668 plainti s’ employment, they had already chosen to retire and to collect their pension benefits. Consequently, Oakton could not have forced plainti s to choose between retirement or continued employment; plainti s had already chosen the for mer over the latter. Defendants are correct. As the district court concluded, “plainti s have produced no evidence from which a reasona ble factfinder could conclude that they were discharged in re taliation for their participation in SURS.” Indeed, the internal communications plainti s cite do not show what plainti s claim. The e mails are evidence that employees were weigh ing their options after the policy announcement, and evidence that Oakton was maintaining its default position that it would not employ annuitants, even if the annuitants stopped receiv ing contributions. The e mails are not proof of Oakton making plainti s choose between receiving benefits and continuing employment. Rather, they demonstrate the opposite: the ab sence of choice. Plainti s also allege that their termination violated article XIII, § 5 of the Illinois Constitution, which provides that “[m]embership in any pension or retirement system of the State … shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.” We understand this to be an argument that plainti s’ discharge constituted a violation of public policy (even though plain ti s’ briefs never mention “public policy”). In any event, we disagree with plainti s’ reading of § 5. The purpose of § 5 is to protect employees’ pension from legislative abrogation. See Kastel v. Winnetka Bd. of Educ., Dist. 36, 946 F. Supp. 1329, 1342–43 (N.D. Ill. 1996). It does not pro tect an annuitant’s right to work at a SURS covered employer No. 18 1668 21 after retirement. As the district court concluded, “[b]ecause Oakton’s decision does not impair the plainti s’ pension rights, and the Illinois Constitution does not protect SURS an nuitants from having to choose between collecting an annuity and continuing part time, post retirement employment, plainti s’ state constitutional claim fails as a matter of law.”9 Lacking any cases discussing retaliation for obtaining pen sion benefits under the Illinois Constitution, plainti s o er an ERISA case discussing “this exact theory under § 510 of ERISA.” See Kross v. W. Elec. Co., 701 F.2d 1238, 1242–43 (7th Cir. 1983) (concluding that “[plainti ’s] allegations state a claim under § 510 of ERISA since such allegations, if proven, might establish that [plainti ] was discharged for the purpose of interfering with the attainment of a right under the insur ance plans.”). But, Oakton’s employment decision did not in terfere with the annuitants’ right or ability to collect their pen sion benefits as the employer’s decision in Kross did. Oakton’s decision only interfered with annuitants’ ability to continue to work for Oakton in their retirement. Kross does not advance plainti s’ claim. As plainti s do not identify any authority that would en title them to simultaneously receive an annuity and to engage 9 The district court properly rejected plaintiffs’ reliance on Kelsay v. Motorola, Inc., 384 N.E.2d 353 (Ill. 1978). In that case, the employer at tempted to discourage the employee from filing a worker’s compensation claim and then fired the employee when she followed through on the claim. Here, by contrast, there is no evidence that defendants attempted to discourage plaintiffs before they accepted benefits; there is only evi dence that a policy change affected employees who had previously elected to take benefits. 22 No. 18 1668 in post retirement employment, Oakton’s alleged interfer ence is not actionable. Defendants are entitled to judgment on plainti s’ retaliatory discharge claim. III. Conclusion For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.
Primary Holding
District court's grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment in an action alleging claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 42 U.S.C. 1983, and Illinois law, affirmed.

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