On September 19, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, affirmed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in a retaliatory discharge case. Seeman v. Wes Kochel, Inc., 2016 IL App (3d) 150640 (9/19/2016). The plaintiff alleged that he was fired because of his protected activity of service to a volunteer fire department because he was fired for tardiness due to responding to a fire call. Under Illinois law there is a common-law tort claim for retaliatory discharge, which is an exception to the doctrine of employment “at will.” A plaintiff must allege that he or she was discharged in retaliation for his or her protected activities and that the discharge violates public policy. Examples of retaliatory discharge that contravened public policy include where an employee was fired for refusing to violate a statute or evade jury duty, engaging in statutorily protected union activities or whistleblower activities, and filing a workers’ compensation claim. Retaliatory discharge claims have not been successful when only private interests are at stake.
The plaintiff’s claim did not specify a constitutional, statutory, or common-law basis for the public policy of protecting a volunteer firefighter’s private employment. This policy is codified in the Volunteer Emergency Worker Job Protection Act (“Volunteer Act”), which supersedes any general common-law doctrine favoring the protection of the private employment of volunteer firefighters. Consequently, there is no cognizable separate and distinct common law claim of retaliatory discharge for volunteer firefighters. The plaintiff’s claim under the Volunteer Act also failed, because he received a small amount of compensation for his volunteer activities and, therefore, was not protected by the statute.