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Clemons v. Mechanical Devices Company

December 03, 1998

DENNIS CLEMONS, APPELLANT, V. MECHANICAL DEVICESCOMPANY, APPELLEE.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Miller

Agenda 21-May 1998.

Plaintiff, Dennis Clemons, filed a complaint in the circuit court of McLean County against his former employer, Mechanical Devices Company (defendant). Plaintiff alleged that he was wrongfully discharged in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. A jury found for plaintiff and assessed damages against defendant in the amount of $63,520.23. On appeal, the appellate court reversed and remanded for a new trial. 292 Ill. App. 3d 242. We granted plaintiff's petition for leave to appeal (166 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)) and now affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

I. BACKGROUND

In August 1988, plaintiff began working for defendant as a machine operator. On June 1, 1989, plaintiff injured his back while at work and informed his foreman, Clarence Hatfield, of the injury. The next day, at defendant's request, plaintiff saw Dr. Larry Nord for this injury. Dr. Nord prescribed pain medication. Plaintiff worked that day and the rest of June. The bills incurred in June as a result of this injury were processed and paid by defendant's workers' compensation carrier.

On July 1, 1989, plaintiff heard his back pop while at work. He worked the remainder of his shift, and at trial stated that, upon leaving, he told Hatfield that his back was still bothering him. Hatfield testified that he did not recall plaintiff reporting this injury. Further, Linda Fillingham, defendant's vice- president and office manager, testified that there was no report of this injury.

On July 3, 1989, plaintiff's back popped again while he was at home bending over to tie his shoes. He called defendant and informed someone in the office that he was not coming to work because he had hurt his back. Because Dr. Nord was not available, plaintiff saw Dr. Neil for this injury. Dr. Neil instructed plaintiff not to return to work, and he remained off work until July 27, 1989.

Plaintiff, however, kept a previously scheduled appointment with Dr. Nord on July 10. Plaintiff testified that, while at Dr. Nord's office, someone from defendant's office called Dr. Nord's secretary and told her not to file the July injury as a workers' compensation claim. Fillingham testified that she told Dr. Nord to keep his records straight between the June and July injuries, for the July injury was to be processed under defendant's health insurance program.

Plaintiff also testified that he had a conversation with Irene Sperry, defendant's co-owner. She told him that she knew the July injury was not work related. According to defendant, she stated that if he filed a workers' compensation claim relative to that injury, he would be discharged. Plaintiff stated that he believed Sperry's claim. Plaintiff received a health insurance claim form for the July injury in the mail. Plaintiff completed the form with the help of his wife. He indicated on the form that the July injury was not work related.

Plaintiff returned to work on Thursday, July 27, 1989. He worked full eight-hour shifts on both July 27 and July 28. Plaintiff then took July 31 through August 4 off as previously scheduled vacation. In accordance with company policy, plaintiff received compensation in advance for his vacation on July 28, 1989. He was not paid for working July 27 and July 28 at that time.

While on vacation, plaintiff saw Kevin Miller, an attorney, to discuss a possible workers' compensation claim. Miller testified that he telephoned defendant the same day inquiring as to the identification of defendant's workers' compensation carrier. He also testified that plaintiff signed a blank workers' compensation application in his office that day.

On August 4, 1989, plaintiff went to defendant to pick up his paycheck for working July 27 and July 28. He was told that he would receive his pay for those two days in his August 11 paycheck. Fillingham testified that this method was consistent with how it paid employees during their vacation periods. Plaintiff insisted that he be paid that day.

Fillingham further testified that attorney Miller called defendant and requested plaintiff's check. She told Miller that plaintiff could come in and pick up his check. When plaintiff arrived he was given his check and told by Fillingham that he was being treated in a manner different from the other employees, which could not be allowed. Plaintiff testified he was told that if he took his check for July 27 and July 28 he would be quitting. Plaintiff took his check and did not work for defendant again.

Subsequently, plaintiff filed a one-count complaint in the circuit court of McLean County. He alleged wrongful discharge in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. Plaintiff voluntarily nonsuited the action in January 1994. In January 1995, plaintiff again filed a one-count complaint in the circuit court of McLean County, alleging wrongful discharge for filing a workers' compensation claim.

During the trial, plaintiff presented evidence attempting to establish that defendant's method of paying him was in violation of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (Wage Act) (820 ILCS 115/1 et seq. (West 1994)). Over defendant's objection, plaintiff's counsel had Fillingham read portions of the Wage Act while examining her as an adverse witness, and questioned her about the legality of defendant's method of payment in light of the Wage Act. Plaintiff focused on section 4 of the Wage Act, which provides, "All wages earned by any employee during a weekly ...


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