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In the Illinois Courts-Retaliatory Discharge only Applies to At-Will Employees

In Taylor v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 2014 IL App (1st) 123744), the plaintiff, Assistant Principal Taylor, filed suit against Chicago's Board of Education seeking damages for retaliatory discharge and violations of the Illinois Whistleblower Act. Taylor claimed he was terminated and subjected to other acts of retaliation by the board because he reported the alleged abuse of a student by a special education teacher. The circuit court's jury awarded Taylor $1,500,000 which included compensatory damages, emotional distress arising from the discharge, and for retaliatory conduct from January 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009 leading up to the discharge. The First District Appellate Court of Illinois reversed the judgment of the circuit court on plaintiff's retaliatory discharge claim and affirmed the finding of the board's liability on any Illinois Whistleblower Act claim. The court vacated the damage award and remanded the case for a new trial on damages under the Illinois Whistleblower Act.

Taylor made a complaint of child abuse to the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services on May 16, 2007. His employment ended on June 30, 2009. Plaintiff alleged he endured retaliatory conduct in the time between the report and his termination. The board argued the plaintiff was not an at-will employee and therefore could not maintain an action for retaliatory discharge. On January 16, 2009, Taylor was notified that pursuant to the guidelines of the principal contract, he was officially released from the new contract. From January until plaintiff's departure, the plaintiff was subjected to disciplinary charges for alleged negligence and insubordination.

The First District Court noted that to state a valid claim for retaliatory discharge, an employee must establish that (1) the employer discharged him, (2) in retaliation for the employee's activities, and (3) the discharge violates a clearly mandated public policy. The First District Court also noted the tort is confined to the discharge of an at-will employee. Following review of the Board rules, the First District Court concluded that plaintiff's employment was for a set term, and that the board could choose not to renew his employment at the end of it. Concluding that Taylor was not an at-will employee, judgment was reversed on plaintiff's retaliatory discharge claim. The court permitted his Illinois Whistleblower Act claim to remain. However, the court remanded the case for a trial solely on damages as it was unclear which damages applied to the two separate causes of action.

© 2020 Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, P.CNational Law Review, Volume IV, Number 223


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