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Metzger v. DaRosa

February 20, 2004

[5] LINETTE METZGER, APPELLEE,
v.
TIMOTHY DAROSA ET AL., APPELLANTS.



[6] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kilbride

[7]  Docket No. 95913-Agenda 34-September 2003.

[8]  This case is before us on questions of Illinois Law certified by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. 145 Ill. 2d R. 20. The certified questions are:

[9]  "1. Does Section 19c.1 of the Illinois Personnel Code, 20 ILCS 415/19c.1, create an implied private right of action?

[10]   2. If there is an implied private right of action under Section 19c.1, is that action limited to one against the employer (i.e., the State of Illinois), or may it also be brought against individual employees (i.e., supervisors, managers, or others who retaliate against the whistleblower)?"

[11]   For the reasons that follow, we hold that under Illinois Law, section19c.1 of the Personnel Code (20 ILCS 415/19c.1 (West 2002)) does not create an implied private right of action.

[12]   I. BACKGROUND

[13]   In the underlying case, Linette Metzger (Metzger), an employee of the Illinois State Police, filed a multiple-count action in federal court against the State Police and several individuals, alleging sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation in violation of federal statutes and constitutional provisions, and one count of a violation of section19c.1 of the Personnel Code (20 ILCS 415/19c.1 (West 2002)).

[14]   The parties have differing interpretations of the events that led to this action. According to Metzger, she reported multiple attendance abuses involving employees who were paid for days when they were not at work, giving the Department of Internal Investigation (DII) over 40 pages of documentation. The DII returned the documents to Metzger and told her to inform her supervisor. Metzger informed her supervisor, Betsy Wasmer-Ryherd (Wasmer), by e-mail. Wasmer immediately charged Metzger herself with attendance abuse to DII, but the allegations were never substantiated. Wasmer then transferred Metzger to another division and revoked her 24-hour building access privileges. At her new division, Metzger had no work assignments for some time. Metzger also claimed that Wasmer and others attempted to retaliate further by changing Metzger's work schedule at her new job without discussing it with her new supervisor. According to Metzger, the transfer adversely affected her chances for promotion and job advancement.

[15]   According to defendants, Metzger first told Wasmer in 1996 that another employee was not properly accounting for time off. Wasmer discussed the matter with the employee and corrected the records to charge two days off against the employee. Two years later, without asking Wasmer if the problem had been corrected, Metzger reiterated the complaint to the DII. The DII told Metzger to discuss it with Wasmer. When Wasmer received Metzger's e-mail, she checked all the employee time records and discovered that Metzger was frequently late for work. Wasmer also suspected that Metzger was going through other employees' desks after hours. Wasmer requested that Metzger be transferred to another unit and revoked Metzger's 24-hour building access.

[16]   The jury found in Metzger's favor on the count alleging violation of section19c.1of the Personnel Code and awarded damages. All other counts were decided in favor of the defendants by court ruling or verdict. Both parties appealed.

[17]   On appeal, the state defendants argued that there is no implied right of action under section19c.1 and that the verdict on that count should be reversed. Alternatively, defendants argued any cause of action implied by that statute would only lie against the State of Illinois and a federal action against the state is barred by the eleventh amendment.

[18]   Perceiving a need for this court to decide authoritatively the issue of whether section19c.1 of the Personnel Code creates an implied private right of action and, if there is such a right, whether that action is limited to one against the employer (i.e., the State of Illinois), or whether it may also be brought against individual employees (i.e., supervisors, managers, or others who retaliate against the whistleblower), the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit certified these questions to this court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 20 (145 Ill. 2d R. 20). *fn1 We agreed to answer the certified questions.

[19]   II. ANALYSIS

[20]   We are first asked to answer the following certified question:

[21]   "1. Does Section 19c.1 of the Illinois Personnel Code, 20 ILCS 415/19c.1, create an implied private right of action?"

[22]   Since the resolution of the certified question involves an interpretation of the Personnel Code (20 ILCS 415/1 et seq. (West 2002)), it presents a question of law that we review de novo. Carver v. Sheriff of La Salle County, 203 Ill. 2d 497, 506-07 (2003). In construing the meaning of a statute, the primary objective of this court is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature, and all other rules of statutory construction are subordinated to this cardinal principle. Carver, 203 Ill. 2d at 507. The plain language of the statute is the best indicator of the legislature's intent. Allstate Insurance Co. v. Menards, Inc., 202 Ill. 2d 586, 591 (2002). When the statute's language is clear, it will be given effect without resort to other aids of statutory construction. Petersen v. Wallach, 198 Ill. 2d 439, 445 (2002).

[23]   Section 19c.1 of the Personnel Code provides:

[24]   "(1) In any case involving any disclosure of information by an employee which the employee reasonably believes evidences- (i) a violation of any law, rule, or regulation; or

[25]   (ii) mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety if the disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law, the identity of the employee may not be disclosed without the consent of the employee during any investigation of the information and any related matters.

[26]   (2) No disciplinary action shall be taken against any employee for the disclosure of any alleged prohibited activity under investigation or for any related activity. For the purposes of this Section, disciplinary action means any retaliatory action taken against an employee, including but not limited to reprimand, suspension, discharge, ...


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