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Darnell v. Impact Industries





Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Kendall County, the Hon. James F. Quetsch, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied February 1, 1985.

Plaintiff, Norma J. Darnell, appealed from the judgment of the circuit court of Kendall County entered upon a verdict directed in favor of defendant, Impact Industries, Inc. The appellate court reversed (119 Ill. App.3d 763), and we allowed defendant's petition for leave to appeal (94 Ill.2d R. 315(a)). The pleadings and facts are adequately set forth in the opinion of the appellate court and will be restated here only to the extent necessary to discuss the issues.

The testimony shows that on May 7, 1981, plaintiff completed an application for employment and submitted it to defendant. The employment application contained the following questions:

"Have you had a serious illness or injury in the past 5 years?"

"Have you ever received compensation for injuries?"

Plaintiff answered "No" to both questions.

Following an interview, she was told she could begin work the following Monday, May 11, 1981. She worked that Monday without incident. The next day, one of plaintiff's co-employees told the personnel office that plaintiff had sustained injuries on her previous job. Defendant's personnel administrator, Janet Spears, made telephone calls to Federal-Huber Corporation and CTS Knights Company, plaintiff's previous employers, and verified plaintiff's dates of employment at Federal-Huber and that she had filed a claim under the Workers' Compensation Act. The personnel manager at Federal-Huber told Spears that on April 16, 1980, plaintiff had injured her neck and had received workers' compensation benefits. Spears then called plaintiff's earlier employer, CTS Knights Company, and was told that although plaintiff had not filed a workers' compensation claim while employed there, she had taken several lengthy medical leaves.

That same day, May 12, defendant's personnel office summoned plaintiff to discuss the injuries and claim. Although she acknowledged that while employed at Federal-Huber she had filed a workers' compensation claim, she stated that she had dismissed the claim and had received no compensation payments. She denied that any of her injuries or illnesses were serious. Pending an investigation, she was suspended until the following Friday, May 15. On May 15, plaintiff was discharged.

Plaintiff brought an action for retaliatory discharge against both defendant and Federal-Huber. Federal-Huber was voluntarily dismissed as a defendant. The circuit court denied defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action. At trial, at the close of plaintiff's case, the circuit court allowed defendant's motion for a directed verdict.

Although the appellate court did not decide the question, we consider first whether the allegations of plaintiff's complaint stated a cause of action for retaliatory discharge. It was alleged in the complaint that plaintiff was discharged from her employment because she filed a workers' compensation claim. The sufficiency of the complaint was raised by defendant's motion to dismiss, and for purposes of the motion, the facts well pleaded must be taken as true. Fitzgerald v. Chicago Title & Trust Co. (1978), 72 Ill.2d 179, 187.

Defendant contends that the tort of retaliatory discharge proscribes only employment decisions which are "retaliatory" and contemplates that the filing of the workers' compensation claim and the discharge involve the same employer and employee. It argues that, under the circumstances alleged here, plaintiff's discharge by defendant because of a claim against a prior employer was not violative of a "clearly mandated public policy." Palmateer v. International Harvester Co. (1981), 85 Ill.2d 124, 130.

Plaintiff argues that the evil resulting from the discharge of an employee for having filed a workers' compensation claim against a prior employer is as great as if the discharge had been effected by the prior employer. We agree. We perceive no distinction between the situation where an employee is discharged for filing a workers' compensation claim against the defendant employer and one where the employer discharges the employee upon discovering that the employee had filed a claim against another employer. In either situation a retaliatory discharge is equally offensive to the public policy of this State as stated in the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 48, par. 138.4(h)). To hold that the tort of retaliatory discharge requires that the workers' compensation claim be made against the discharging employer would seriously undermine the comprehensive statutory scheme which provides "for efficient and expeditious remedies for injured employees." Kelsay v. Motorola, Inc. (1978), 74 Ill.2d 172, 182; see also Midgett v. Sackett-Chicago, Inc. (1984), 105 Ill.2d 143.

We consider next the question whether the circuit court erred in directing a verdict in favor of the defendant. Plaintiff testified that she was told that she was being discharged because she had filed a workers' compensation claim. Also in evidence is a memorandum prepared by defendant's personnel administrator, Janet Spears, which indicated that the calls to plaintiff's previous employers were made in order to determine whether she had filed a workers' compensation claim. A verdict should not be directed unless "all of the evidence, when viewed in its aspect most favorable to the opponent, so overwhelmingly favors movant that no contrary verdict based on that evidence could ever stand." (Pedrick v. Peoria & Eastern R.R. Co. (1967), 37 Ill.2d 494, 510.) We conclude that, viewed in ...

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