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Roberts v. Board of Trustees Community College District No. 508

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

April 16, 2018

KENRICK ROBERTS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT NO. 508 d/b/a City Colleges of Chicago, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 15 L 9430 Honorable James Snyder, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Pierce and Justice Mikva concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          HARRIS, JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff-appellant, Kenrick Roberts, filed this action against defendant-appellee, Board of Trustees Community College District No. 508 d/b/a City Colleges of Chicago, alleging causes of action for common law retaliatory discharge, violations of the Whistleblower Act (740 ILCS 174/20 (West 2016)), and wrongful termination. After engaging in motion practice, the circuit court dismissed the retaliatory discharge claim and whistleblower claim with prejudice.

         ¶ 2 On appeal, plaintiff contends the circuit court erred in dismissing those two counts. He contends his claim for retaliatory discharge successfully alleges a violation of Illinois public policy. He also claims the second amended complaint properly alleges he refused to participate in defendant's unlawful conduct so as to fall within the protection of the Whistleblower Act.

         ¶ 3 For the reasons stated more fully below, we reverse the dismissal of plaintiff's retaliatory discharge claim but affirm the dismissal of his claim brought under the Whistleblower Act.

         ¶ 4 JURISDICTION

         ¶ 5 On October 25, 2016, the circuit court dismissed with prejudice count I (retaliatory discharge) and count II (Whistleblower Act) of plaintiff's second amended complaint. According to the record, plaintiff made an oral motion for Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) language, which the circuit court denied. Ill. S.Ct. R. 304(a) (eff. Mar. 8, 2016). On November 22, 2016, the plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider the denial of Rule 304(a) language. On December 15, 2016, the circuit court granted the motion to reconsider. In granting the motion, the circuit court made an express finding under Rule 304(a) that there was no just reason to delay the appeal of the October 25 dismissal of counts I and II. Plaintiff filed his notice of appeal on January 5, 2017.Accordingly, this court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to article VI, section 6 of the Illinois Constitution and Illinois Supreme Court Rules 301 and 304(a). Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 6; Ill. S.Ct. R. 301 (eff. Feb. 1, 1994); R. 304(a) (eff. Mar. 8, 2016).

         ¶ 6 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 7 In March 2013, plaintiff began working for the defendant as the clinical coordinator of the physician assistant program at Malcolm X College (Malcolm X). In June 2014, plaintiff was promoted to the position of program director of the physician assistant program.[1] In November 2014, plaintiff was promoted to the position of director of medical programs.

         ¶ 8 As the director of medical programs, plaintiff reported directly to and worked closely with Dr. Micah Young, the dean of health sciences and career programs at Malcolm X and Dr. Mario De La Haye, the associate dean of health sciences and career programs at Malcolm X. As part of his job duties and responsibilities as the director of medical programs, plaintiff was responsible for vetting potential instructors for teaching various courses and curriculum. This responsibility included ensuring instructors assigned to teach various courses, including but not limited to HeaPro 101, met the appropriate accreditation standards and had the correct qualifications to teach the assigned course and curriculum.

         ¶ 9 HeaPro 101 includes the instruction of phlebotomy[2] and electrocardiograms (EKG). The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) states that in order for a course or curriculum to be accredited and approved for phlebotomy, the class must have qualified faculty. Under NAACLS, in order to be qualified to teach phlebotomy within the phlebotomy or health care basic certificate program, the faculty needs to be a certified professional in that field, must demonstrate knowledge and proficiency in that field, and must demonstrate the ability to teach effectively at the appropriate level. A professor can be certified in phlebotomy by the National Phlebotomy Association or through the American Society of Clinical Pathologists.

         ¶ 10 On or about January 15, 2015, plaintiff alleges that he became aware of complaints that the instructor assigned to teach HeaPro 101 was unqualified to teach the course and curriculum. As a result of the complaints, plaintiff met with the HeaPro 101 instructor and questioned her qualifications to teach HeaPro 101. The instructor informed plaintiff that she had never taught phlebotomy before, she was unfamiliar with the requirements and certifications necessary to become a phlebotomist, phlebotomy was not her area of expertise, and she did not have any certifications in phlebotomy. After meeting with the instructor, plaintiff found her unqualified to teach HeaPro 101.

         ¶ 11 On or about January 15, 2015, plaintiff sent an e-mail to Dr. Young and Dr. De La Haye complaining about the unqualified instructor. The e-mail stated:

"In compliance with the City Colleges of Chicago policy and the College of Health Science credentialing standards and requirements it is my responsibility as Program Director of HeaPro 101 to review, evaluate and approve the recommendation of each faculty member that is approved to teach in the program which I am director. Taking into consideration I had no input into the department decision to appoint a nurse to teach HeaPro 101 without my review of the credentials and necessary certifications and licenses put our programs and students at risk. Please note this is a breach of the standards that were developed to ensure that the students obtain the best outcomes moving forward with their education in the medical field. Please note I am very concerned about the direction in which we are traveling and wish to address this matter."

         After receiving the e-mail from plaintiff, Dr. Young sent an e-mail to the president and provost of Malcolm X College stating his concerns about the unqualified instructor and asked how it should be addressed.

         ¶ 12 Following his January 15, 2015 e-mail, plaintiff made verbal complaints to Dr. Anthony Munroe, president of Malcolm X College, regarding the appointment of an unqualified professor to teach HeaPro 101. He informed Dr. Munroe that he had been intentionally excluded from the hiring process of the unqualified instructor and he refused to support the assignment. On February 4, 2015, without prior notice, Dr. Young was unexpectedly terminated from his position with defendant. On February 5, 2015, Dr. De La Haye was unexpectedly placed on paid administrative leave. Dr. De La Haye remained on leave until his termination on April 20, 2015.

         ¶ 13 On February 25, 2015, plaintiff sent an e-mail to the president, vice president, and associate provost again complaining about the unqualified instructor assigned to teach HeaPro 101. In addition to what plaintiff had previously learned from his interview with the instructor, plaintiff had learned that the instructor had abandoned the class. Plaintiff found out another individual was ...


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