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10/20/88 Connie Ryherd, v. General Cable Company

October 20, 1988

CONNIE RYHERD, APPELLANT

v.

GENERAL CABLE COMPANY, APPELLEE



SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS

530 N.E.2d 431, 124 Ill. 2d 418, 125 Ill. Dec. 273 1988.IL.1553

Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fourth District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Piatt County, the Hon. John P. Shonkwiler, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE STAMOS took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE CLARK

In Gonzalez v. Prestress Engineering Corp. (1986), 115 Ill. 2d 1, we held that Federal law does not preempt an employee's claim that his employer tortiously discharged him in retaliation for the filing of a workers' compensation claim, even though the employee is covered by a collective-bargaining agreement and could have grieved his discharge to arbitration. The case at bar raises two questions: First, whether we should overrule Gonzalez, and, second, whether an employee who actually grieves his discharge claim to arbitration is thereby precluded from seeking to recover in court for retaliatory discharge. We answer both questions in the negative.

The appellant, Connie Ryherd, was employed by the appellee, General Cable Company. She sued the appellee for retaliatory discharge in the circuit court of Piatt County. The defendant moved for summary judgment on the retaliatory discharge claim, asserting that the claim was preempted by section 301 of the Federal Labor Management Relations Act (29 U.S.C. § 185(a) (1982)). The circuit court granted the motion for summary judgment, and the appellate court affirmed (151 Ill. App. 3d 1). We granted the appellant's petition for leave to appeal (107 Ill. 2d R. 315).

The appellant was hired by the appellee on August 16, 1978. Throughout her employment, the appellant was a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local No. 1993. The collective-bargaining agreement between the appellee and the union mandated a four-step grievance procedure for employees who had been disciplined or discharged. The final step in a dispute, under the agreement, was arbitration.

On March 5, 1981, the appellant suffered a work-related injury. She did not return to work until February 24, 1983. In the interim, she filed a workers' compensation claim and received a lump-sum settlement totalling $40,210. She also took a medical leave of absence beginning in April of 1983. In January of 1984, she was released to go back to work.

On February 2, 1984, however, the appellant was discharged. The official reasons given for her termination were "a lack of desire and physical inability to function as a full-time employee." Four days later, the appellant, through her union, filed a grievance. In the grievance, the appellant claimed that her discharge was motivated in part by her absences due to work-related injuries and in part because she had filed a workers' compensation claim.

The appellant's grievance was ultimately submitted to arbitration. At a hearing held before an arbitrator on August 17, 1984, the appellee introduced the following evidence about the appellant's employment history. On December 15, 1979, the appellant elected to take layoff, and she was recalled to work on February 11, 1980. She again elected to take layoff on May 5, 1980, and was recalled to work on February 22, 1981. On March 5, 1981, she suffered the work-related injury for which she filed her workers' compensation claim. She spent two years recuperating from this injury and did not return to work until February 24, 1983. On February 28, 1983, she suffered an allergic reaction. She then took a medical leave of absence until March 29, 1983. While on medical leave she was involved in a car accident and suffered a neck or whiplash injury. She nevertheless returned to work on March 29. She took several sick days in the first two weeks of April. On April 13, 1983, she took another medical leave of absence due to muscle strain, which aggravated her whiplash. She was released to go back to work in January of 1984 and terminated on February 2.

The appellee's contention during arbitration was that the appellant had been terminated for excessive absenteeism, apart from her leaves of absence for work-related injuries. The arbitrator agreed with the appellee. On November 2, 1984, he rendered his decision, concluding that the appellant was discharged "solely and wholly because of her absenteeism record" and that the appellee's action in terminating her was proper.

The appellant thereafter filed a three-count complaint against the appellee in the circuit court of Piatt County. Counts II and III were later dismissed upon motion of the appellant. Count I sounded in retaliatory discharge, alleging that the appellant had been terminated for filing a workers' compensation claim and subsequently obtaining a lump-sum settlement. On October 25, 1985, the appellee filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the appellant's State tort action was preempted by section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (29 U.S.C. § 185(a) (1982)).

The circuit court granted the motion. Relying on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck (1985), 471 U.S. 202, 213, 85 L. Ed. 2d 206, 216, 105 S. Ct. 1904, 1912, the court ruled that the State tort action for retaliatory discharge was "inextricably intertwined with consideration of the terms of the labor contract." Accordingly, under the ...


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