Illinois law

Pregnant Employees to have New Rights in Illinois

The Illinois Legislature has amended the Illinois Human Rights Act to protect pregnant employees from discrimination.  House Bill 8, effective January 1, 2015, makes it unlawful for an Illinois employer to discharge, refuse to hire, segregate, or take other adverse employment action on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.  An Illinois employer will also be required to provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants and part-time, full-time, or probationary employees for any medical or common condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation imposes an undue hardship on its business.  Examples of the reasonable accommodations include: more frequent or longer bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, and breaks for periodic rest; private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk and breastfeeding; seating; assistance with manual labor; light duty; temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position; an accessible worksite; acquisition or modification of equipment; job restructuring; a part-time modified work schedule; appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials, or policies; reassignment to a vacant position; time-off to recover from conditions related to childbirth; and leave necessitated by pregnancy, childbirth or resulting conditions.  The new law prohibits adverse job action based on the need of an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.  House Bill 8 also amends the retaliation provision of the Illinois Human Rights Act to make it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against a person because he or she requested, attempted to request, used, or attempted to use any reasonable accommodation under the Act (pregnancy or non-pregnancy related). 

Illinois Appellate Court Holds that Arbitration Clause in Employment Contract is Valid and Enforceable

On June 9, 2014, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, held that an arbitration clause contained in an employment contract is valid and enforceable.  Fuqua v. SVOX AG, 2014 IL App (1st) 131429.  The arbitration clause stated that arbitration is the exclusive remedy for, "[a]ny dispute or controversy arising under or in connection with this Agreement or any other dispute concerning [employee's] employment with [employer]."  However, the clause carved out an exception for restrictive covenants and confidentiality provisions, which could be enforced in court.  The Appellate Court stated that the Illinois Uniform Arbitration Act (710 ILCS 5/1) is controlling, which applies contract law to arbitration agreements.  The Appellate Court found that the arbitration clause is supported by the offer of employment, acceptance of the offer, and consideration--the employment (which lasted only 8 months).  The Appellate Court also found that there are no grounds for revocation of the arbitration clause because it is not procedurally or substantively unconscionable.  The employment law claims subject to the arbitration clause in Fuqua include breach of contract and retaliatory discharge, as well as alleged violations of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, the Illinois Whistleblower Act, and the Illinois Personnel Record Review Act. 

Illinois House Passes Bill Requiring Employers to Provide Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnancy and Child-Birth Related Conditions

On May 28, 2014, the Illinois House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 8, which amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to require Illinois employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for conditions related to pregnancy and child-birth.  The reasonable accommodations would include, for example, modification to job duties or work schedules, assistance with physical work, seating, frequent water and restroom breaks, time-off to recover from child-birth, and private non-bathroom space for breast-feeding or pumping.  House Bill 8, which was already passed by the Illinois Senate, will become effective January 1, 2015, if it is signed into law by Governor Quinn.

New Pregnancy Discrimination Law Passes Illinois Senate

On May 20, 2014, the Illinois State Senate approved legislation that would expand the rights of pregnant employees.  House Bill 8, passed by a vote of 57-0, would require Illinois employers to provide employees with reasonable accommodations for conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.  The accommodations would include frequent water and bathroom breaks, help with manual labor, time-off to recover from childbirth, private non-bathroom space for breast-feeding or pumping, as well as modifications to job duties or work schedules.  The legislation, which is a proposed amendment to the Illinois Human Rights Act, is expected to be passed by the Illinois House of Representative and signed into law by Governor Quinn. 

$665K Sexual Harassment Settlement

On May 12, 2014, the Belleville News-Democrat reported that five employees of the former St. Clair County Clerk were paid a combined settlement of $665,000 by the County in connection with alleged claims of sexual harassment.  The employees had reportedly filed alleged charges of sex discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights under Title VII and the Illinois Human Rights Act.  The allegations of sexual harassment, which included inappropriate physical touching and sexual comments, were investigated by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that is unlawful under Title VII and the Illinois Human Rights Act. 

Illinois Common Law Retaliatory Discharge Claim Applies Only to At-Will Employees

On May 6, 2014, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, held that the Illinois common law tort of retaliatory discharge applies only to at-will employees, and not to employees who have a definite contractual term of employment that is not renewed.  Taylor v. Board of Education of Chicago, No. 123744, 2014 IL App (1st).  Therefore, the plaintiff, who had a four-year employment contract, terminable only for cause, could not establish a common law claim for retaliatory discharge based upon the non-renewal of his employment contract.  However, the Appellate Court also held that the non-renewal of an employment contract is actionable under the Illinois Whistleblower Act (740 ILCS 174).  The plaintiff established a statutory claim under the Illinois Whistleblower Act on the basis that the non-renewal of his employment contract was in retaliation for his protected activity.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Illinois Retaliatory Discharge Claims

The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment on Illinois state common law retaliatory discharge claims for insufficient evidence of causation.  Reid, et al. v. Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, No. 13-1768 (7th Cir.) April 1, 2014.  Although the plaintiffs had engaged in protected activity shortly before their termination, they had been making the protected complaints occasionally for six months, and the complaints had not escalated prior to the termination.  Moreover, the termination was immediately preceded by an intervening event--policy violations--that prompted the termination.  Other employees who made the same protected complaints were not terminated; and one employee who did not make any protected complaint was also terminated for the same policy violations.  The Seventh Circuit concluded that in view of the record as a whole, the evidence did not permit a reasonable inference of retaliatory intent.

No Illinois Workers Compensation Retaliatory Discharge Claim for Employee Discharged for Refusing to Take Drug Test

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in an Illinois workers compensation retaliatory discharge case.  Phillips v. Continental Tire, No. 13-2199 (7th Cir.), February 14, 2014.  The employer discharged the employee for his refusal to take a mandatory drug test.  The test was a precondition for the initiation of his workers compensation claim.  In order to prevail on an Illinois workers compensation retaliatory discharge claim, a plaintiff must establish a causal connection between the exercise of a right granted under the Illinois Workers Compensation Act, and the discharge.

Contract Terminable Only on Written Consent of Parties Terminable At Will

The Illinois Appellate Court recently held that a sales representative contract that, according to its own terms, is terminable only upon the written consent of both parties, is actually terminable at will, because contracts of indefinite duration, which the termination provision created, are unenforceable under Illinois law as against public policy. Rico Industries, Inc. v. TLC Group, Inc., 2014 IL App (1st) 131522, February 7, 2014.  Employers and executives should take note of this decision because its holding--that contract termination provisions requiring the consent of both parties are unenforceable--would apply to executive employment agreements and other employment contracts.

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