In this employment case, the plaintiff filed claims of retaliation in the workplace.
This is an interesting case and serves as a tool to show that when filing a complaint through the Human Rights Commission, the wording and content of the complaint are very important. The case is Blount v. Stroud et al. 904 N.E.2d 1 (2009) 232 Ill. 2d 302 No. 10557, appealed to the Supreme Court of Illinois.
In this instance, the plaintiff, Jerri Blount, appealed a judgment by a lower court reversing a multimillion dollar jury award relating to her federal and state retaliation claims against the defendants Stroud and Jovon Broadcasting. The core issue was whether or not Blount’s only source of redress was via the administrative procedures laid out in the Illinois Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/1-101 (West 2000)).
In 2001, the plaintiff filed several complaints against the defendants. At issue in the Illinois Supreme Court were counts three and five. In count three, the plaintiff stated the defendants wrongfully dismissed her, violating the federal Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. § 1981 (2000)). It appeared the issue was that defendant Stroud retaliated against plaintiff Blount because she stood up for a coworker in a federal discrimination suit against Jovon Broadcasting. Both plaintiff and defendants were African-American and the coworker was Caucasian.
It appeared that Blount was a witness to some behavior the coworker was subjected to and that Blount said her complaints had merit. Blount also told her boss, Stroud, she would testify for the coworker. However her boss said to stay out of the situation and be quiet. Blount thought that was the wrong thing to do and testified for her coworker. She was threatened, intimidated, suspended and fired in October 2000.
In relation to count five, which was tied directly to count three, it was indicated in court that witnesses must testify truthfully and that perjury is a criminal offense. Because the plaintiff refused to tell a lie in court about her coworker, the management fired her.
At trial, defendants stated the lower circuit court did not have jurisdiction to judge the plaintiff’s retaliation claims, saying the claim fell under the prohibitions in the Act (see 775 ILCS 5/6-101(A) (West 2000)), and that she had to seek a resolution through the Act’s administrative procedures.
Further, defense counsel said the plaintiff’s claims were linked to a civil rights violation and therefore the Act preempted the claims. The court rejected those arguments and focused on complaint five. On the retaliation claim, the jury found for the plaintiff back pay in the amount of $257,350, a pain and suffering award of $25,000 and punitive damages for $2.8 million. After the trial it was argued, among other things, the circuit court did not have jurisdiction. The appellate court reversed.
When this case reached the Illinois Supreme Court, the court reversed the judgment of the appellate court. In other words, they held that the circuit court did have jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claim and they reversed the judgment of the appellate court and remanded the matter back to that court.
It is quite evident that retaliation claims and wrongful dismissal issues can be incredibly complex. Consequently, how they are filed is of vital importance, and this is something that a Chicago employment lawyer will attend to when filing such a complaint. If you are not sure whether or not you may have a case, make a call to an experienced Chicago employment attorney and discuss your situation.
Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit Employmentlawcounsel.com.