On October 20, 2017, a federal district court judge for the Northern District of Illinois held that a non-solicitation restrictive covenant contained in an employment contract was not unenforceable for lack of adequate consideration, even though the defendants were employed for fewer than two (2) years. Stericycle, Inc. v. Simota, et al., No. 16 C 4782 (N.D.Ill. 10/20/2017). In so holding, the court rejected the Illinois Appellate Court's ruling in Fifield v. Premier Dealer Servs., 2013 IL App (1st) 120327, which held that a non-competition or non-solicitation restrictive covenant contained in an employment at-will employment agreement is unenforceable for lack of adequate consideration when the employee was employed for fewer than two (2) years. Several other Illinois Appellate Court decisions have followed Fifield and adopted the so-called "two-year rule," but the Illinois Supreme Court has not reached the issue. Accordingly, federal court judges are not bound to follow Fifield, and instead must make a predictive judgment on how the Illinois Supreme Court would decide the issue.
Employment Law Chicago Blog
On October 2, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment on a former employee's sexual harassment, retaliation and FMLA claims. King v. Ford Motor Company, No. 16-3391 (7th Cir. 10/2/2017). The plaintiff, who was an assembly line worker, claimed that she was sexually harassed by a supervisor. She was discharged after missing several weeks of work for medical reasons that her former employer claims she failed to properly document. In her federal lawsuit, she filed claims for sexual harassment, FMLA interference, and retaliation based on her complaints of sexual harassment and for taking FMLA leave. Since she failed to file suit within 90 days of receipt of her notice of right-to-sue letter from the EEOC, her Title VII sexual harassment claim was time-barred. Her FMLA interference and retaliation claims failed too, for substantive reasons.
On September 26, 2017 (in an unpublished Rule 23 opinion), the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, ruled that a 2.5 Million Dollar punitive damages award in an Illinois workers' compensation retaliatory discharge lawsuit was unconstitutional under federal due process standards, and reduced the punitive damages award to $1,406,839.50 based on a 9:1 ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages. Francek v. Dominick's Finer Foods, LLC, et al., 2017 IL App (1st) 162574-U. Following a jury trial in a retaliatory discharge case, the circuit court entered judgment on the jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff and against his former employer in the total amount of $2,656,315.50. The plaintiff claimed that he was discharged in retaliation for filing claims under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act. The jury returned a verdict in the amount of $156,315.50 in compensatory damages, $2,500,000 in punitive damages, plus court costs. The compensatory damages were itemized as follows: (1) $31,315.50 for psychological treatment and counseling; (2) $75,000 for emotional and/or psychological damages; and (3) $50,000 for emotional and/or psychological damages reasonably certain to be experienced.
On September 26, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in a disability discrimination lawsuit in which the plaintiff, a special education teacher, alleged that her receipt of an "unsatisfactory" rating, which resulted in her dismissal in reduction-in-force, constituted unlawful interference in violation of the Rehabilitation Act. Frakes v. Peoria School District No. 150, No. 15-3091 (7th Cir. 9/26/2017). The Rehabilitation Act is a federal statute analogous to the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), that prohibits recipients of federal funding, including public schools, from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability. The district court granted summary judgment for the school district on the basis that the plaintiff did not establish that she had engaged in any protected activity, which is required for an interference claim under the Rehabilitation Act. The 7th Circuit agreed, stating that the plaintiff "...provided no evidence that she complained about or discouraged discrimination based on disability or engaged in any other activity protected by law."
On September 20, 2017, the 7th Circuit held that a long-term medical leave of absence does not constitute a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., No. 15-3754 (7th Cir. 9/20/2017). The plaintiff took a 12-week medical leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") to get medical treatment for a bad back. On the last day of his leave, he had back surgery, which required that he remain off of work for another two or three months. He requested continuation of his medical leave from his employer, the defendant, but by then he had used up all of his FMLA leave. The employer denied his request, terminated his employment, but invited him to reapply when he was medically cleared to work. Three months later, his doctor cleared him to return to work, but he did not reapply; instead, he sued the company, claiming that it had discriminated against him on the basis of his disability, in violation of the ADA, by failing to provide him with a reasonable accommodation in the form of a three-month leave of absence after his FMLA leave expired.
On September 18, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of an employer in a federal lawsuit filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") by a transportation worker, who alleged that he was terminated on the basis of his mental disability in violation of the ADA. Monroe v. Indiana Department of Transportation, et al., No. 16-1959 (7th Cir. 9/18/2017). The plaintiff worked for the Indiana Department of Transportation for over 21 years. One of his job duties was to clean up human remains after traffic fatalities. He also witnessed the death of a co-worker in a work-related accident; and he served in combat in the Gulf War. He was discharged from employment for allegedly creating a hostile and intimidating work environment based on the investigation of a complaint against him by a group of his subordinates, who alleged that he mistreated them. During the investigation, the plaintiff disclosed that he had recently been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
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