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Bea v. Bethany Home

August 14, 2002

RONALD BEA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
BETHANY HOME, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 14th Judicial Circuit, Rock Island County, Illinois, No. 96-L-121 Honorable Charles Stengel and Honorable Martin Conway, Judges, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Slater

After plaintiff Ronald Bea was dismissed from his job, he filed a complaint for retaliatory discharge against his former employer, defendant Bethany Home, Inc. The complaint was dismissed by the trial court and plaintiff appeals from that dismissal. We affirm in part and reverse in part and remand for further proceedings.

Facts

Because plaintiff is appealing from the dismissal of his complaint for failure to state a cause of action pursuant to section 2--615(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--615(a) (West 2000)), we accept as true all well-pleaded facts in the complaint and all reasonable inferences which can be drawn from those facts. See Kolegas v. Heftel Broadcasting Corp., 154 Ill. 2d 1, 607 N.E.2d 201 (1992). Bethany is a licensed provider of child care services. Plaintiff was employed by Bethany as a child care worker in Moline, Illinois, from 1984 to 1994. In 1993, Bethany suspended one of plaintiff's co-workers, Anthony Campagna, for alleged abuse of a child. Investigators for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) notified Bethany that they wanted to speak to plaintiff, who had personal knowledge of the alleged incident of child abuse. Plaintiff told his supervisors at Bethany that the information provided by Bethany to DCFS concerning Campagna was false, and plaintiff was going to testify at an upcoming DCFS hearing on Campagna's behalf. Thereafter, in March of 1994, Bethany vice-president Thomas Gehlsen told plaintiff that he should find another job and plaintiff was given a negative employee evaluation.

In October of 1994 Bethany made a report to DCFS concerning an incident where plaintiff, while restraining a resident minor, allegedly caused severe rug burns to the child's face, requiring medical treatment. Plaintiff and two co-workers prepared reports concerning the incident but Bethany failed to provide the reports to DCFS. In November of 1994, plaintiff told Bethany president Gary Ulrich that the October allegation of child abuse was false and plaintiff would testify that DCFS was not receiving true and complete information from Bethany. On December 6, 1994, plaintiff was fired based on a determination by DCFS that the October incident of alleged child abuse was "indicated."

Plaintiff filed a complaint for retaliatory discharge against defendant which, after a number of interlocutory rulings and various amendments, was dismissed by the trial court on January 26, 2001. At issue in this appeal are counts II, V, VI, VII and VIII of plaintiff's third amended complaint.

Analysis

As we indicated above, when reviewing the dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a cause of action, all well-pleaded facts and inferences drawn therefrom are accepted as true. Kolegas, 154 Ill. 2d 1, 607 N.E.2d 201. Pleadings are to be liberally construed with a view to doing substantial justice between the parties (735 ILCS 5/2--603 (West 2000)), and the allegations of the complaint should be interpreted in the light most favorable to the plaintiff (Kolegas, 154 Ill. 2d 1, 607 N.E.2d 201). The standard of review for a dismissal under section 2--615 is de novo. Neppl v. Murphy, 316 Ill. App. 3d 581, 736 N.E.2d 1174 (2000); Stebbings v. University of Chicago, 312 Ill. App. 3d 360, 726 N.E.2d 1136 (2000).

The tort of retaliatory discharge is a limited and narrow cause of action that stands as an exception to the general rule that an "at will" employee may be terminated at any time for any reason or no reason. Paskarnis v. Darien--Woodridge Fire Protection District, 251 Ill. App. 3d 585, 623 N.E.2d 383 (1993); see Fellhauer v. City of Geneva, 142 Ill. 2d 495, 568 N.E.2d 870 (1991). To establish a cause of action for retaliatory discharge, a plaintiff must show that: (1) he was discharged in retaliation for his activities; and (2) the discharge contravenes a clearly mandated public policy. Jacobson v. Knepper & Moga, P.C., 185 Ill. 2d 372, 706 N.E.2d 491 (1998). Although there is no precise definition of what constitutes clearly mandated public policy, it

"concerns what is right and just and what affects the citizens of the State collectively. It is to be found in the State's constitution and statutes and, when they are silent, in its judicial decisions. [Citation.] Although there is no precise line of demarcation dividing matters that are the subject of public policies from matters purely personal, *** a matter must strike at the heart of a citizen's social rights, duties, and responsibilities before the tort will be allowed." Palmateer v. International Harvester Co., 85 Ill. 2d 124, 130, 421 N.E.2d 876, 878-79 (1981).

A review of Illinois case law indicates that retaliatory discharge actions have been allowed under two circumstances: (1) when the employee has been fired for filing a claim for worker's compensation; or (2) where the employee is discharged in retaliation for reporting illegal or improper conduct, otherwise known as "whistle blowing." Jacobson, 185 Ill. 2d 372, 706 N.E.2d 491. Plaintiff's claims are of the latter variety, and we will consider them individually, mindful that the tort of retaliatory discharge seeks to achieve a balance among the employer's interest in operating a business, the employee's interest in earning a living, and society's interest in seeing its public policies carried out. Fellhauer, 142 Ill. 2d 495, 568 N.E.2d 870.

Count II

Count II of plaintiff's third amended complaint alleges that plaintiff was discharged in retaliation for his anticipated testimony on behalf of Anthony Campagna. Plaintiff asserts that his discharge violated the public policy expressed in section 9.1 of the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act (Reporting Act), which provides:

"ยง9.1. Employer discrimination. No employer shall discharge, demote or suspend, or threaten to discharge, demote or suspend, or in any manner discriminate against any employee who makes any good faith oral or written report of suspected child abuse or neglect, or who is or will be a witness or testify in any investigation or proceeding concerning a ...


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