Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Illinois
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Rehfield sued the Diocese, alleging retaliatory discharge and violation of the Whistleblower Act (740 ILCS 174/1). Rehfield was an educator for more than 43 years. In 2012, Rehfield was hired as the principal of St. Raphael Catholic School in Naperville. In 2016, Rehfield alerted teachers about an out-of-state parent, MacKinnon, whom Rehfield believed to present a threat based on his emails concerning his daughter. Eventually, the police issued an arrest warrant for MacKinnon. Against the advice of the police and the supervising priest, Rehfield distributed a photograph of MacKinnon and informed her staff to call 911 if they saw MacKinnon. In May 2017, the Naperville Sun published an inaccurate story about the situation: “Man vowed to ‘terrorize’ Naperville school: authorities.” Days after a meeting with angry parents, the Diocese terminated RehfieldThe trial court dismissed, reasoning that Rehfield was employed pursuant to a contract and “[c]ommon law retaliatory discharge claims may only be asserted by employees terminable at will.” The trial court also cited the doctrine of ecclesiastic abstention. The appellate court affirmed, stating that Rehfield was not a secular employee but a “member of the clergy.” The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. Rehfield’s formal title (lay principal) does not necessarily indicate a religious role but her job duties entailed numerous religious functions in furtherance of the school’s Catholic mission. There is sufficient evidence to conclude that she was a minister and that the ministerial exception bars her whistleblower claim. View "Rehfield v. Diocese of Joliet" on Justia Law

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The John A. Logan Community College Board of Trustees voted to reduce the number of full-time faculty members for the 2016-17 school year; 27 tenured faculty members (including the plaintiffs) received layoff notices under the Public Community College Act, 110 ILCS 805/3B. The Board and the union entered into a settlement agreement regarding various matters related to the decision.In 2017, the plaintiffs filed suit, citing section 3B-5 of the Act, which provides: “For the period of 24 months from the beginning of the school year for which the faculty member was dismissed, any faculty member shall have the preferred right to reappointment to a position entailing services he is competent to render prior to the appointment of any new faculty member; provided that no nontenure faculty member or other employee with less seniority shall be employed to render a service which a tenured faculty member is competent to render.” During the 2016-17 school year, adjunct instructors taught courses that plaintiffs had previously taught; they alleged that enough work existed to employ them full-time.The appellate court ruled that adjunct instructors were other “employee[s] with less seniority” under the “bumping rights” provision. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. The rights conferred by section 3B-5 apply to individual courses, rather than to positions as faculty members; section 3B-5 prohibits the Board from laying off tenured faculty members and hiring adjunct instructors to teach courses that the tenured faculty formerly taught. View "Barrall v. Board of Trustees of John A. Logan Community College" on Justia Law

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Fox Lake patrol officer Zander was charged with misconduct arising from multiple job-related incidents. The chief recommended termination. Zander's union, FOP, assigned Attorney Carlson, an FOP employee. Zander had no input into the choice of an attorney, had no retainer agreement with Carlson, and was not charged for Carlson’s services. Under the Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/1-1-1), police officers who face removal or discharge are entitled to a hearing before the local board of fire and police commissioners unless a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) provides for arbitration. The CBA between Fox Lake and FOP gave officers the option of pursuing either avenue. On Carlson’s advice, Zander chose arbitration. The arbitrator upheld the termination. Zander sued, alleging legal malpractice and that FOP has no right to employ attorneys to furnish legal services under its direction to FOP members, and cannot control what attorneys assigned to help FOP members may do and “should be vicariously liable.”The circuit court dismissed, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s "Atkinson" holding, which immunizes union members and officers against personal liability for actions taken while acting as a union representative in the context of the collective bargaining process. The court noted the parallels between federal labor law and the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed. But for the collective bargaining agreement. FOP would have owed Zander no duty. Zander’s claim against the union fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Illinois Labor Relations Board. View "Zander v. Carlson" on Justia Law

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Sparta instituted a policy for evaluating the performance of full-time police officers. Day-shift officers must accumulate at least 82 points, while the standard for night-shift officers is 65 points. Points are awarded for traffic citations, drug task force duties, investigations that take more than one shift, shooting range training; training outside the department, court time, and extra duty shifts. Awards for Officer of the Month and of the Year will be based on the most points earned over the Officer’s monthly minimum standard. Failure to reach the minimum monthly points will result in discipline that is corrective and progressive in nature. The Union alleged the policy establishes an unlawful ticket quota in violation of the Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/11-1-12). The circuit court granted Sparta summary judgment.The appellate court reversed, holding that the statute prohibits consideration of the number of citations issued when evaluating a police officer’s performance based on points of contact. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. Section 11-1-12 first provides a general statement prohibiting citation quotas, defined as “requir[ing] a police officer to issue a specific number of citations within a designated period of time.” The second paragraph, applicable here, does not prohibit evaluating police officers with points-of-contact system and defines a “point of contact” as “any quantifiable contact made in the furtherance of the police officer’s duties,” with the sole exception being “the issuance of citations or the number of citations issued.” View "Policemen's Benevolent Labor Committee v. City of Sparta" on Justia Law

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Cahill was the office administrator for the Family Vision optometry practice and handled insurance billings. She left her employment and filed for bankruptcy protection. About 90% of Family’s revenue came from claims submitted to VSP, which covers claims from optometrists only if they have “majority ownership and complete control” of their medical practices. VSP disburses payments after the provider signs an agreement certifying itself as “fully controlled and majority-owned” by an optometrist. At the time Cahill was submitting Family’s claims, the practice was actually owned by a practice management company with more than 150 surgery centers and other medical practices.About a year after Cahill left Family, the trustee of Cahill’s bankruptcy estate sued under the Insurance Claims Fraud Prevention Act, 740 ILCS 92/1, which added civil penalties to existing criminal remedies for fraud against private insurance companies and allows a claim to be raised on the state’s behalf by a private person (relator), in a qui tam action. The relator becomes entitled to remuneration if the lawsuit succeeds. A relator must be an “interested person” but the Act does not define that term.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the reinstatement of the case. A former employee-whistleblower with personal, nonpublic information of possible wrongdoing qualifies as an “interested person” under the Act and need not allege a personal claim, status, or right related to the proceeding. The state need not suffer money damages to partially assign its claim to a relator. The Act is intended to remedy fraud against private insurers, where the only injury to the state is to its sovereignty, based on a violation of criminal law. View "Leibowitz v. Family Vision Care, LLC" on Justia Law

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Cook County Sheriff Dart instituted disciplinary proceedings against several Sheriff’s officers (plaintiffs) by filing charges with the Cook County Sheriff’s Merit Board under Counties Code, 55 ILCS 5/3-7011. The plaintiffs filed motions with the Board to dismiss the charges. While the administrative proceedings were pending, the plaintiffs filed suit, seeking declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief against the Sheriff, Cook County, the Board, and the Cook County Board of Commissioners, asserting that the Board was not legally constituted because several of its members were appointed to or served terms that did not comply with the Code section 3-7002 requirements.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of the suit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Because the plaintiffs challenged the authority of the Board to address the charges, the “authority” exception to the exhaustion requirement applied. The circuit court can adjudicate the requests for back pay and other claims, which do not fall within the particular expertise of the Board. The plaintiffs raised the issue before the Board, which refused to hear them until after the disciplinary proceedings were complete. Given that the Board had not taken any substantive action regarding the disciplinary charges before the filing of the lawsuit, the “de facto officer doctrine” does not apply. View "Goral v. Dart" on Justia Law

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McAllister injured his knee while working as a sous chef for a restaurant. The injury occurred as he stood up from a kneeling position while attempting to retrieve food that had been misplaced in the cooler. He had previously had surgery on the knee and had received workers’ compensation benefits at that time. An arbitrator awarded him workers’ compensation benefits but the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission reversed, finding that the injury did not “arise out of” his employment. The circuit court and the Appellate Court, Workers’ Compensation Commission Division, affirmed.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The injury arose out of an employment-related risk; the acts that caused the injury were risks incident to his employment because these were acts his employer might reasonably expect him to perform in fulfilling his assigned job duties. McAllister was responsible for arranging the walk-in cooler and had a duty to find misplaced food. The court overruled certain cases to the extent that they held that injuries attributable to common bodily movements or routine everyday activities, such as bending, twisting, reaching, or standing up from a kneeling position, are not compensable unless a claimant can prove that he was exposed to a risk of injury from these common bodily movements or routine everyday activities to a greater extent than the general public. View "McAllister v. Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2014, a $30,880 judgment covering backpay and pre-judgment interest was entered against Oakridge Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, LLC, for its age and disability discrimination against a former employee, in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act, 775 ILCS 5/1-101. Oakridge Rehab had already gone out of business and transferred the assets and operation of its nursing home facility to Oakridge Healthcare Center, LLC in 2012. Unable to enforce the judgment against Oakridge Rehab, the state instituted proceedings to enforce the judgment against Oakridge Healthcare.The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in favor of Oakridge Healthcare, declining to adopt the federal successor liability doctrine in cases arising under the Human Rights Act. The court noted four limited exceptions to the general rule of nonliability for corporate successors and declined to apply the fraudulent purpose exception, which exists “where the transaction is for the fraudulent purpose of escaping liability for the seller’s obligations.” The court stated that it is within the legislature’s power to abrogate the common-law rule of successor nonliability or otherwise alter its standards through appropriately targeted legislation for employment discrimination cases. View "Department of Human Rights v. Oakridge Healthcare Center, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Police Union sued the City of Chicago for failing to destroy records of police misconduct that were more than five years old, as required under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). An arbitrator held that the CBA should prevail and directed the parties to come to an agreement regarding the destruction of the documents.The circuit court rejected the award. The appellate court agreed, finding requiring the city to destroy all records related to alleged police misconduct without consideration of whether the records have administrative, legal, research, or historical value ignored the requirements of the Local Records Act (50 ILCS 205) and resulted in diminishing the Local Records Commission’s authority to determine what records should be destroyed or maintained. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. The arbitration award violated an explicit, well-defined, and dominant public policy. Although the city could comply with the Local Records Act by submitting disciplinary records to the Commission, that is not required under the CBA. Submission to the Commission is only part of the statutory procedures a local government must follow under the Act. The most crucial aspect is compliance with the Commission’s ultimate decision regarding the retention or destruction of the government records. View "City of Chicago v. Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago Lodge No. 7" on Justia Law

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The Pension Code allowed elected county board members to participate in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) if the participant occupied a position requiring 1000 hours of service annually and the public employee filed an election to participate. A 1968 administrative rule required the governing body of a participating employer to adopt a resolution certifying that the position of elected governing body members required the hourly standard. Williamson County complied with the 1968 rule. The plaintiffs satisfied the original requirements for IMRF participation, electing to participate in 2004, 2008, and 2012. In 2016, Public Act 99-900, amended parts of the Pension Code (40 ILCS 5/7-137.2(a), requiring, for the first time, that all county boards certify within 90 days of each general election that their board members were required to work sufficient hours to meet the hourly standard for participation and that members who participate in IMRF submit monthly timesheets. The Fund issued “Special Memorandum #334” to the authorized IMRF agent in every county, explaining the change: “If the County Board fails to adopt the required IMRF participation resolution within 90 days after an election, the entire Board will become ineligible and IMRF participation will end for those Board members.” The Fund also sent a direct mailing to individual county board members participating in IMRF. Williamson County did not timely adopt the required resolution. The Fund notified the plaintiffs that they were not eligible for continued IMRF participation.The Illinois Supreme Court found Public Act 99-900 invalid under Illinois Constitution article XIII, section 5. A public employee’s membership in a pension system is an enforceable contractual relationship; continued IMRF participation was protected from unilateral legislative diminishment or impairment when the plaintiffs became IMRF participants and began accruing the service credits. View "Williamson County Board of Commissioners v. Board of Trustees of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund" on Justia Law