Illinois law

Illinois Appellate Court Holds that Disability Harassment and Failure to Accommodate are Cognizable as Separate and Distinct Claims Under the Illinois Human Rights Act

On April 27, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District, held that hostile work environment based on disability harassment as well as failure to provide reasonable accommodation are separate and distinct claims under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA").   Rozsavolgyi v. City of Aurora, 2016 IL App (2d) 150493 (4/27/2016).  The IHRA prohibits discrimination in employment and other contexts based on a variety of protected classifications, including disability.  In this case, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant violated the IHRA by discriminating against her on the basis of her disabilities, subjecting her to harassment on the basis of her disabilities (creating a hostile work environment), failing to provide her with reasonable accommodation for her disabilities, and retaliating against her for her complaints by terminating her employment.  On appeal, the defendant argued, among other things, that there is no separate claim for disability harassment or failure to accommodate under the IHRA.  The appellate court disagreed and reached the opposite conclusion through its statutory interpretation of the IHRA, based on Illinois Human Rights Commission decisions, legislative history, and federal court decisions construing analogous federal statutes.

$2.4 Million Jury Verdict on Breach of Employment Contract and Tortious Interference Claims

On March 28, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed a $2.4 Million jury verdict in a lawsuit for breach of an employment agreement and tortious interference with the employment contract.  Koehler v. The Packer Group, et al., 2016 IL App (1st) 142767 (3/28/2016).  The plaintiff, who was employed as a CEO, alleged that he was demoted and then discharged after revealing financial improprieties to the company's board.  He sued the company for breach of his employment contract and also sued certain individuals for tortious interference with contract, claiming that they induced the company to breach its employment agreement with him.  After a three-week trial, the jury returned a large verdict for the plaintiff.

7th Circuit Affirms Summay Judgment in Retaliation Lawsuit

On March 4, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order that granted the defendant's motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's retaliation claims that she had filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").  Boston v. U.S. Steel Corporation, No. 15-2795 (7th Cir., 3/4/2016).  The plaintiff worked for U.S Steel for 18 years before she was laid off, along with a number of other employees.  She filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), in which she alleged that she was laid off in retaliation for an earlier EEOC discrimination charge.  She filed a lawsuit in federal court in which she sought relief for retaliation under Title VII and the ADEA, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress under Illinois common law.

3.3 Million Dollar Jury Verdict in Wrongful Termination Case

On March 2, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed a substantial jury verdict in an Illinois wrongful termination lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that his employment was terminated in retaliation for contacting the Illinois Attorney General's office and reporting information that he believed was a legal violation as well as for providing responses to a Freedom of Information Act request.  Crowley v. Watson, et al., 2016 IL App (1st) 142847 (3/2/2016).  The plaintiff is an attorney who worked for Chicago State University.  His wrongful discharge lawsuit was based on the Whistle Blower Protection section of the Illinois Ethics Act, which prohibits retaliatory action against a state employee for his or her protected activity, including the disclosure of legal violations to a public body.  The First District noted that the claim is analogous to the Illinois common law tort of retaliatory discharge, which is an exception to the general rule of employment at-will in Illinois.  Under Illinois law, there is a cause of action for retaliatory discharge where an employee is discharged in retaliation for engaging in protected activities, in violation of a clear public policy mandate.

Employer Customer Lists May Qualify As Trade Secrets

On February 17, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, issued an opinion in a lawsuit in which an employer sued a former employee for breach and enforcement of his employment agreement and his severance agreement.  Bridgeview Bank Group v. Meyer, 2016 IL App 160042 (1st Dist., 2/17/2016).  The employee had entered into an employment contract which contained, among other things, a non-competition provision, as well as a confidentiality clause and non-solicitation provisions as to customers and employees.  In connection with the termination of his employment, the employee signed a severance agreement, which eliminated the non-competition provision of his employment agreement, but re-affirmed the confidentiality and non-solicitation provisions.  The employer filed a lawsuit against the former employee, in which it alleged that he violated the provisions of the employment agreement and the severance agreement.  The employer asserted claims under Illinois law for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference with business relationships, and violation of the Illinois Trade Secrets Act.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Race, National Origin and Retaliation Claims

On January 26, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment on race and national origin discrimination as well as retaliation claims alleged under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), the Civil Rights Act of 1866 ("Section 1981"), and the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA").  Bagwe v. Sedgwick Claims Management, No. 14-3201 (7th Cir., 1/26/2016).  The plaintiff alleged that the employer paid her a comparatively low salary on account of her race and national origin, and terminated her for discriminatory and retaliatory reasons.  Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of his or her race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  Section 1981 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race or national origin when making and enforcing contracts.  The IHRA makes it unlawful for an employer to take adverse job action against an employee on the basis of unlawful discrimination or citizenship status.

Federal Judge Rules that Sexual Orientation is not a Protected Class under Title VII

On January 20, 2016, a United States District Court Judge for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed a claim for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation on the ground that sexual orientation is not a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").  Igasaki v. Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, et al., No. 15-cv-03693 (N.D.Ill., 1/20/2016).  The plaintiff alleged that he was subjected to discrimination based on his race, sex, age, and disability, and that he was retaliated against for complaining about his mistreatment.  He alleged that a supervisor harassed him on the basis of his sex after the supervisor allegedly learned of his sexual orientation.  The defendants argued that what the plaintiff attempted to characterize as a sex discrimination claim was actually a claim for discrimination on the basis of his sexual orientation, and, therefore, must be dismissed because sexual orientation discrimination is not actionable under Title VII.  The judge agreed with the defendants, citing Hamner v. St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Care Ctr., Inc., 224 F.3d 701, 704 (7th Cir. 2000) as precedent that harassment based solely upon a person's sexual preference or sexual orientation (and not on one's sex) is not an unlawful employment practice under Title VII.

Federal and Illinois Courts Disagree About What Makes Non-Compete Clauses in Employment Contracts Enforceable

There is a judicial split between federal judges in the Northern District of Illinois and the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, on the issue of whether two years of continued employment is required for adequate consideration to support a non-competition provision in an employment contract under Illinois law.  In 2013, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, held that (absent other consideration) at least two years of employment is required as consideration to support a non-compete or non-solicitation clause in an employment agreement.  Fifield v. Premier Dealer Servs., Inc., 373 Ill.Dec. 379, 993 N.E.2d 938 (Ill.App.1st Dist. 2013).  Otherwise, the non-compete or non-solicitation provision is unenforceable for lack of consideration, even if the employee left employment voluntarily.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on ADA and Title VII Discrimination and Retaliation Claims

On December 21, 2015, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order summary judgment in favor of the defendant entered by the district court in a Title VII and ADA lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her employer discharged her from employment because of her disability, race and gender, as well as in retaliation for filing an EEOC Charge and a worker's compensation claim.  Carothers v. County of Cook et al., No. 15-1915 (7th Cir., 12/21/2015).  The plaintiff alleged disability discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), as well as race discrimination, sex discrimination, and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").  To establish a valid claim for disability discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: (1) she is disabled within the meaning of the ADA; (2) she is able to perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation; and (3) the employer took adverse job action against her on the basis of her disability.

Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act Amended to Expand Types of Employee Misconduct

On December 4, 2015, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law that amends the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act (the "Act"), effective January 3, 2016, to expand the types of employee behavior that constitute misconduct for purposes of disqualification from benefits.  The general definition of misconduct under the Act is a deliberate and willful violation of a reasonable company rule or policy that harmed the employer or that the employee repeated despite warning.  The amendments to the Act provide that misconduct "shall include" eight (8) specific categories of employee behavior: (1) falsifying an employment application; (2) failing to maintain a license required for the job; (3) knowingly and repeatedly violating company attendance policies that are in compliance with federal and state law, despite written warning; (4) damaging employer property though grossly negligent conduct; (5) refusing to follow an employer's reasonable and lawful work instructions; (6) consuming alcohol or illegal drugs on the employer's premises during work hours in violation of company policy; (7) reporting to work under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs; and (8) committing grossly negligent conduct that endangers the safety of co-workers or other individuals.

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