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Proving Retaliatory Discharge Requires Actual Causation Under Illinois Law

Dec. 18, 2017

There has long been an idea under Illinois law that doing the right thing should be protected. If you notice your employer is doing something illegal and report it to law enforcement, you should be rewarded for this good deed, or at the very least protected from retaliation at your job. Illinois has long had what’s known as the Whistleblower Act on the books to protect employees from retaliatory discharge if they report wrongdoing on the part of their employer. But a recent decision by the Illinois Supreme Court has now made it harder to prove retaliatory discharge cases.

Michael v. Precision Alliance Group

The three plaintiffs in the 2014 case Michael v. Precision Alliance Group, LLCworked for a company that sold bags of soybeans. State law required this company to fill bags of soybeans with the weight printed on each bag, but the three men became aware that their employer was under-filling bags, and reported this information to a former employee who passed it along to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Weights and Measures. The involvement of the department caused soybean production at the plant to shut down for ten days.

The plaintiffs’ employer reportedly threatened to terminate anyone involved in reporting the company’s under-weighing of bags to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Weights and Measures. The first plaintiff was terminated shortly thereafter for improper use of a forklift, and the two other men lost their jobs due to downsizing at the plant. None of the men were explicitly fired for their whistleblowing, but of course they had their doubts and pursued a lawsuit for retaliatory discharge.

The Illinois Supreme Court Requires More Than a Causal Nexus for Retaliatory Discharge Cases

The plaintiffs lost their case at the trial level, but won before the court of appeals. However, when the case went before the Illinois Supreme Court, the original judgment in favor of the defendant employer was reinstated.

The Court’s decision instituted a federal rule in retaliatory discharge cases that had previously been rejected by Illinois courts. Under this standard, to prevail for retaliatory discharge, a plaintiff must show:

  • Discharge by the employer;

  • That the discharge was actually in retaliation for conduct of the employee; and

  • That the discharge was in violation of public policy.

The problem with the Michael case is that while the Court found that there might have been a “causal nexus” between the discharge of the men and their whistleblowing conduct, without a smoking gun showing that their actions were the direct cause of the loss of their jobs, the Court refused to hold their former employer accountable.

Contact an Employment Discrimination Lawyer Today

No one should have to worry about losing their job for doing the right thing. If you’ve been fired because you reported an illegal activity by your employer to the authorities, you should speak with an experienced Roselle employment discrimination attorney. Contact the Law Office of Michael T. Smith today for a consultation.