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Edwards v. Addison Fire Protection District Firefighters' Pension Fund

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

December 9, 2013

KIM L. EDWARDS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE ADDISON FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT FIREFIGHTERS' PENSION FUND, THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE ADDISON FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT FIREFIGHTERS' PENSION FUND, and THE ADDISON FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT, Defendants-Appellees.

Held [*]

The finding of defendant board of trustees of the pension fund of the fire protection district where plaintiff was employed that plaintiff failed to prove that she had incurred a “sickness” from an allergy to latex that rendered her “permanently disabled” within the meaning of the Pension Code and that she was not entitled to a line-of-duty disability pension was not against the manifest weight of the evidence and was upheld by the appellate court, and further, the trial court’s denial of her motion to consolidate the administrative review of the Pension Board’s decision with her pending employment discrimination action claim arising from the termination of her employment was also upheld, since the two actions involved different roles for the trial court, different standards, different issues, and different evidence.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County, No. 12-MR-162; the Hon. Bonnie M. Wheaton, Judge, presiding.

Thomas W. Duda, of Law Offices of Thomas W. Duda, of Arlington Heights, for appellant.

Richard J. Reimer, Keith A. Karlson, and Christopher M. Melnyczenko, all of Reimer & Karlson LLC, of Hinsdale, for appellee Addison Fire Protection District Firefighters' Pension Fund.

Ericka J. Thomas, of Ottosen Britz Kelly Cooper Gilbert & DiNolfo, Ltd., of Naperville, for appellee Addison Fire Protection District.

Justices Schostok and Spence concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

McLAREN JUSTICE

¶ 1 Plaintiff, Kim L. Edwards, appeals from the trial court's orders: (1) denying her motion to consolidate this case with another pending case, before a single judge; and (2) denying her complaint for administrative review and affirming the decision of defendant the Board of Trustees of the Addison Fire Protection District Firefighters' Pension Fund (Board). We affirm.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Edwards was employed as a firefighter/paramedic for defendant the Addison Fire Protection District (District). In July 2008, Edwards sent a memorandum to Captain Roy Charvat, in which she reported the "increasing severity" of reactions that she had been having to the latex gloves that were carried on the District's fire apparatuses; in light of these reactions, she recommended that the District move to the use of nonlatex nitrile gloves, which she wore, for all duty personnel. Lieutenant Mike Toika, to whom Edwards had previously spoken about her increasing latex reactions, investigated the equipment in the District's ambulances to identify the items that contained latex. In a memorandum to Charvat, Toika explained:

"The biggest issue, at this time, is the gloves. The sensitivity issue with Kim is increasing, and while benedryl [sic] does help, she really doesn't want to be using it that much here. So any help you can give, in at least getting [the] department to purchase nitrile gloves only would be greatly appreciated."

¶ 4 Edwards continued working her scheduled shifts until September 11, 2008, when she received a telephone call from Leigh Fabbri, the District's fire chief, who informed her that she could not return to work until the latex situation had been resolved. The District then sent Edwards for three independent medical evaluations concerning her latex allergy. The evaluations were performed in September, October, and December 2008.

¶ 5 On October 16, 2008, Edwards filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights a charge of discrimination against the District. Edwards alleged that she had a physical disability as defined in section 1-103(I) of the Illinois Human Rights Act (Act) (775 ILCS 5/1-103(I) (West 2008)), that the District was aware of her disability, and that the disability was unrelated to her ability to perform the essential functions of her job "with or without a reasonable accommodation."

¶ 6 In a letter dated December 16, 2008, Chief Fabbri notified Edwards that the District had "no option but to seek your termination." According to Fabbri, the reports from the independent medical evaluations "have made it clear that any exposure to latex constitutes a risk to the well-being of people under your care, your well-being, and other responders who may need to be re-directed to intervene to counteract a reaction you may experience." The opinion of the doctors involved was that Edwards "cannot return to duty as a firefighter/paramedic." The District considered whether any positions that could ensure no contact were available, but it had "no such openings at this time." Fabbri relayed that the District would file charges with the board of fire commissioners, which would hold a hearing. However, the District was "open to discussing alternate methods" of Edwards' separation from the District, including "application for a disability pension or resignation." No charges were filed with the board of fire commissioners.

¶ 7 In January 2009, Edwards filed with defendant the Addison Fire Protection District Firefighters' Pension Fund (Fund) an application for disability pension benefits, claiming a line-of-duty disability pursuant to section 4-110 of the Illinois Pension Code (Code) (40 ILCS 5/4-110 (West 2008)).[1] In her application, Edwards described her disability as "Latex allergy worsening over the past two years due to exposure at Addison Fire Dept." She also described the cause of her illness as "Repeated exposure to latex through the latex gloves that were being used on the AFD's ambulances/engines." Hearings on Edwards' application were held in November 2009 and September 2011 before the Board. On January 3, 2012, the Board issued a 27-page decision and order in which it found that Edwards had failed to prove "that she incurred a 'sickness' that rendered her ...


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