An Illinois jury recently returned a large verdict in a reverse discrimination lawsuit against the Springfield Urban League, in which the plaintiff alleged that her employment was terminated on account of her race, white, and because she refused to participate in workplace religious activities. The plaintiff was awarded $46,718 in back pay and lost benefits, $4,403 in litigation costs, and $160,222 in attorneys' fees. The plaintiff alleged that she was fired because she objected to prayer meetings at work organized by a supervisor, and alleged that members of the supervisor's congregation who worked at the Urban League were given preferential treatment. She also alleged that African-Americans and members of the congregation were hired over more qualified job candidates. The Urban League, which disagrees with the verdict, has filed post-trial motions objecting to the verdict on various legal grounds, and is expected to file an appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court.
On October 26, 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court held that non-competition, non-solicitation, and confidentiality provisions contained in an employment contract were unenforceable as a matter of law. Assured Partners, Inc., et al. v. Schmitt, 2015 IL App (1st) 141863. This case involved a "take it or leave it" employment agreement that an employer required an employee to sign during his employment in order to keep his job. The agreement contained the usual restrictive covenants. After the employee resigned, the employer filed a lawsuit to enforce the restrictive covenants against him. A non-competition agreement is enforceable only if it: (1) is no greater than is required to protect a legitimate business interest of the employer; (2) does not impose an undue hardship on the employee; and (3) is not injurious to the public. In addition, the scope of the activity, temporal, and geographic restrictions must be reasonable. The court found the non-competition provision unreasonably broad in terms of activity, temporal, and geographic scope. The non-compete prohibited the employee, an professional liability insurance broker, from working in that industry for 28 months in all 50 states.
The Illinois Equal Pay Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees in terms of compensation on the basis of gender, has been amended, effective January 1, 2016, to cover all Illinois employers of any size. The Illinois Equal Pay Act makes it unlawful for an Illinois employer to pay an employee less than the employer pays to another employee of the opposite sex for the same or substantially similar work on jobs which require equal skill, effort and responsibility that are performed under similar work conditions. Prior to the amendment, the Act only applied to employers with four or more employees. The Act, which is administered and enforced by the Illinois Department of Labor, provides for civil penalties for each offense. There are exceptions, including any factor that would not constitute unlawful discrimination under the Illinois Human Rights Act.
The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act has recently been re-introduced to both Houses of Congress. If enacted, the Act would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. The accommodation requirement is intended to allow pregnant employees to continue working through pregnancy, if they wish, and to protect them from forced leave of absence or employment termination due to pregnancy. The Act would also make it unlawful for employers to deny employment opportunities to women based on the need for reasonable accommodation related to pregnancy or childbirth. The proposed pregnancy law appears to have support in both the House and the Senate and would more than likely be signed into law by the President.
Illinois employers can now give preference to veterans when hiring new employees under the newly enacted Veterans Preference in Private Employment Act, which Governor Rauner signed into law on July 28, 2015. The new Illinois law permits private employers to voluntarily adopt hiring policies that give preference to job applicants who served in the military, on active or reserve duty, including the Illinois National Guard. The hiring preference policies must be in writing and posted at the workplace or on the employer's website, as well as on job applications. A similar Illinois law has already been enacted for public employers.
On July 24, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on a claim alleging failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended. Swanson v. Village of Flossmoor, No. 14-3309 (7th Cir. July 24, 2015). The plaintiff in this case was a police detective who suffered two strokes. After the first, he requested a reasonable accommodation under the ADA--that he be allowed to work at a desk job. The employer satisfied its obligation to provide him with a reasonable accommodation for his disability by allowing him to use his paid time off to work part-time, in accordance with his physician's instructions. After his second stroke, unable to perform the essential functions of his job, he resigned. The 7th Circuit held that his failure to accommodate claim was without merit. The employer reasonably accommodated the employee after his first stroke by permitting him to use paid leave to work part-time. Since he was unable to perform his essential job functions after his second stroke, the employer was no longer required to accommodate him.
On July 15, 2015, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") ruled that employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation constitutes sex discrimination that is actionable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. Baldwin v. Foxx, et al., No. 0120133080. The EEOC's decision is premised on its theory that sexual orientation discrimination is rooted in traditional gender-related stereotyping and, therefore, fits in the protected class of gender within the meaning of Title VII. It is probably no coincidence that the EEOC's ruling comes in the wake of the recent landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.
On June 25, 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, held that a noncompetition provision in an employment contract is unenforceable for lack of consideration when the duration of the employee's employment is less than two years and there is no other consideration. McInnis v. OAG Motorcycle Ventures, Inc., 2015 IL App (1st) 130097 (June 25, 2015). A motorcycle salesman who resigned after 18 months filed a declaratory judgment action seeking to declare restrictive covenants in his employment contract unenforceable. The employer filed a counterclaim to enforce the restrictive covenants. The trial court ruled in favor of the former employee; and the employer appealed. The First District affirmed the ruling of the trial court and, in so doing, upheld and clarified its 2013 appellate decision in Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services, Inc.
On July 14, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Judicial Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that former employees of an information technology staffing firm were not liable for breach of restrictive covenants under Illinois law. Instant Technology LLC v. DeFazio, et al., Nos. 14-2132 & 14-2243 (7th Cir. 7-14-2015). The employees had signed employment agreements in which they agreed to not solicit business from the employer's clients, recruit the employer's employees to other jobs, or disclose confidential information. After the employees started a competing business, the employer filed a lawsuit against the employees in federal district court for breach of the restrictive covenants in their employment agreements. After a bench trial, the court concluded that the employees were not liable.
On June 2, 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court, Second District, held that an employment agreement that guaranteed the employee a two-year minimum term of employment is not terminable for the employee's poor performance during the employment term. Eakins v. Hanna Cylinders, LLC, 2015 IL App (2d) 140944. This appeal involved a claim for breach of an employment contract. The employment agreement guaranteed the employee a minimum term of employment of 24 months. After 14 months, the employer terminated the employee, and did not pay him any salary after the date of termination. The employer claimed that the employee had breached the contract by his poor performance and that therefore it had the right to terminate him for cause before the expiration of the employment term. The employer also argued that an employer always retains the right to discharge an employee for cause regardless of the duration of the employment contract. The employee contended that the employer had no right to terminate him for cause, because the employment agreement guaranteed employment and salary payment for a specific duration without any performance requirements or standards.