On September 16, 2016, the 7th Circuit reversed an order of summary judgment entered by the district court in a federal lawsuit in which the plaintiff, a special education teacher diagnosed with PTSD, alleges that the School District failed to provide her with reasonable accommodation for her disability by refusing her request to be transferred to another special education job in the District that does not involve behavioral or emotional disorder students. Lawler v. Peoria School District No. 150, No. 15-2976 (7th Cir. 9/16/2016). She was tenured by the District after nine years of satisfactory performance. However, when she suffered a relapse of her PTSD, and the District then learned about her disability for the first time, the District transferred her to a different school, to teach children with not only learning disabilities, but also severe emotional and behavioral disorders. The plaintiff and her new supervisor at the new school thought that this was a bad idea. She was rated satisfactory after a year in the new position, but at the start of her second year, she was injured by a disruptive student. Her psychiatrist notified the District that the incident had retriggered her PTSD, and that she needed to be transferred to a different teaching environment. The District did not transfer her, but instead accelerated her next performance appraisal, rated her as unsatisfactory, and terminated her employment as part of a reduction-in-force through which all but unsatisfactory rated teachers were rehired.
Employment Law Chicago Blog
On September 2, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed an order of summary judgment in a state court lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that his employment was terminated in retaliation for his workers' compensation claim and because of a work-related disability. Vulpitta v. Walsh Construction Company, et al., 2016 IL App (1st) 152203 (9/2/2016). The plaintiff worked for the defendant as a carpenter and carpenter foreman for approximately 12 years until he was laid off. The defendant contended that it laid off the plaintiff due to a work shortage, while the plaintiff alleged that he was terminated unlawfully in retaliation for exercising his rights under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act and on account of his work-related disability. The Illinois Human Rights Act makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of his or her disability. There is also an Illinois common law tort claim for retaliatory discharge, which is an exception to the general rule in Illinois of employment at-will. To state a claim for workers' compensation retaliatory discharge, a plaintiff must establish: (1) he was an employee of the defendant at or before the time of the injury; (2) he exercised a right under the Workers' Compensation Act; and (3) his discharge was causally related to the exercise of his rights. The element of causation cannot be met if the employer establishes a valid, nonpretextual basis for the discharge. The ultimate issue is the employer's motive in discharging the employee.
On September 6, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a defendant employer in a lawsuit in which the plaintiff, a former employee, alleged that the employer fired her for taking or requesting leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), in violation of the FMLA. Arrigo v. Jay E. Link, et al., Nos. 13-3838 & 14-3298 (7th Cir. 9/6/2016). After a trial in federal court, the jury returned a verdict for the defendant. The plaintiff appealed on various evidentiary and procedural grounds. Among other things, she contended that the district court erred by excluding from evidence her supervisor's notes from a meeting about her return from medical leave. The 7th Circuit concluded that the district court was correct in excluding the notes as irrelevant to the FMLA claim because they did not imply an unlawful motive. The notes, which contained explicit references to the plaintiff's medical conditions (arguably disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA")), would likely have been relevant and admissible in an ADA disability discrimination lawsuit to demonstrate a disability-based discriminatory animus; but the plaintiff's ADA claim had been thrown out of court on procedural grounds before trial.
Another new Illinois employment law that expands employee rights, the "Employee Sick Leave Act," requires Illinois employers who provide employees with paid sick leave to allow their employees to use that time to care for the employees' immediate family members, parents-in-law, grandchildren or grandparents. The employer must allow the employee to use the paid sick time for family care giving just as he or she would be allowed to use the time for his or her own injury or illness, except that the employer may cap the time used for care giving in the amount that the employee would have accrued at 6 months. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act already requires covered employers to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks' unpaid leave to care for family members.
Effective July 29, 2016, the Illinois Child Bereavement Leave Act (the "Act") requires Illinois employers who are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act to provide employees with up to 10 working days of unpaid leave of absence in the event of the death of an employee's child. Employees may substitute accrued paid leave for the unpaid bereavement leave. The Act also contains an anti-retaliation provision, which makes it unlawful for an employer to take adverse employment action against an employee who exercised his or her rights under the Act. Claims for violation of the Act may be filed with the Illinois Department of Labor or in court.
On August 19, 2016, Illinois Governor Rauner signed the "Illinois Freedom to Work Act" into law which, effective January 1, 2017, will prohibit employers from entering into non-competition agreements with low wage employees, i.e., employees earning less than $13.00 per hour. The new law will apply to Illinois employers of any size (who employ one or more employees). The law provides that no employer shall enter into a covenant not to compete with any low wage employee; and that any covenant not to compete so entered into is illegal and void.
This blog is provided for general informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice, and shall not be relied upon for any particular matter. Reading, reviewing, or otherwise using the blog shall not create any attorney-client relationship.