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Dynak v. The Board of Education of Wood Dale School District 7

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

June 12, 2019

MARGARET DYNAK, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF WOOD DALE SCHOOL DISTRICT 7, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 16-MR-1368, Honorable Bonnie M. Wheaton, Judge, Presiding.

          BIRKETT PRESIDING JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice McLaren concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          BIRKETT PRESIDING JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff, Margaret Dynak, appeals the judgment of the circuit court of Du Page County granting the motion for summary judgment of defendant, the Board of Education of Wood Dale School District 7, and denying plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment. The issue presented here is whether, under section 24-6 of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/24-6 (West 2016)), plaintiff was entitled to use 30 days of her accumulated sick leave following the birth of her child. Specifically, plaintiff gave birth to her child at the end of the 2015-16 school year and defendant granted her 1.5 days of sick leave; plaintiff then requested to use 28.5 days of sick leave to begin the 2016-17 school year, and defendant denied that request. Plaintiff also claimed that defendant owed her attorney fees, pursuant to the Attorneys Fees in Wage Actions Act (Wage Act) (705 ILCS 225/1 (West 2016)), and the parties agree that this claim is tied to the outcome of plaintiff's claim under the School Code. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 We summarize the pertinent facts appearing in the record. Plaintiff has been a full-time teacher with defendant since the beginning of the 2008-09 school year. By the end of the 2015-16 school year, plaintiff had accumulated 71 paid sick days. At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, plaintiff was awarded an additional 14 paid sick days, giving her a total of 85 paid sick days.

         ¶ 4 On March 15, 2016, plaintiff submitted a letter to the superintendent, Dr. John Corbett. Plaintiff wrote that she was scheduled to have her child by caesarean-section on June 6, 2016, the last full day of the 2015-16 school year. June 7, 2016 was a half day. Thus, plaintiff stated that she would be using 1.5 paid sick days on June 6 and 7. Plaintiff also stated that she intended to take 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) (see 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (2012)), commencing on August 18, 2016, the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. Plaintiff further stated, however, that she intended to take the first 28.5 days of that leave as paid sick days. Plaintiff expressly tied her use of the sick days to section 24-6 of the School Code, claiming that, under her reading, she could take 30 consecutive paid sick days for the birth of her child.

         ¶ 5 On April 21, 2016, Corbett replied to plaintiff's letter and approved plaintiff's request to use 1.5 paid sick days at the end of the 2015-16 school year and 12 weeks of FMLA leave at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. Corbett denied, however, plaintiff's request to use 28.5 sick days at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. Corbett stated that, because plaintiff's FMLA leave would "begin 10 weeks after the birth of her child, she [would] not be eligible to use sick days for the leave unless additional circumstances exist[ed] that would normally allow for the use of paid sick leave."

         ¶ 6 After defendant's denial of plaintiff's request to use paid sick leave, Sylvia Rios, associate general counsel for the Illinois Education Association, formally reiterated plaintiff's request. According to Rios, section 24-6 entitled plaintiff to use up to 30 days of accumulated paid sick leave for the birth of her child, without having to provide medical certification, and this could encompass the 1.5 days at the end of the 2015-16 school year and the 28.5 days at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.

         ¶ 7 On May 20, 2016, defendant replied to Rios, again denying the request to use the 28.5 paid sick days. On June 1, 2016, Rios sent to defendant a final demand requesting that, before June 15, 2016, defendant state its final position with regard to plaintiff's request. Defendant did not respond to that letter. On June 6, 2016, as scheduled, plaintiff gave birth to her child.

         ¶ 8 On August 18, 2016, the 2016-17 school year began, along with plaintiff's approved FMLA leave. On August 22, 2016, Corbett e-mailed to plaintiff his congratulations, along with two documents. One document was a letter confirming that, on November 10, 2016, plaintiff would resume her duties following the completion of her leave. The second document was a summary of plaintiff's salary for the 2016-17 school year, showing that plaintiff would be docked 58 days of pay coinciding with her leave and confirming that she could not use any paid sick days for that period. At all times relevant here, plaintiff had maintained more accumulated paid sick days than the 28.5 days she requested to use at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year.

         ¶ 9 On October 6, 2016, plaintiff made a written demand upon defendant, seeking payment for the unpaid wages resulting from defendant's denial of plaintiff's request to use the 28.5 paid sick days. In the demand letter, plaintiff sought $8, 074.91 in unpaid wages. However, the information upon which this claim was based was incorrect, because defendant had, in the summary of plaintiff's 2016-17 salary, used an incorrect pay rate. During the litigation, plaintiff corrected the amount to $7, 991.46 and defendant did not dispute the correction.

         ¶ 10 On October 13, 2016, plaintiff filed a three-count complaint against defendant. In count I, plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that she was allowed to use paid sick leave for the birth of her child, even though the leave would occur after the summer break. In count II, plaintiff sought attorney fees pursuant to the Wage Act. In count III, plaintiff alleged that defendant violated section 14(a) of the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (820 ILCS 115/14(a) (West 2016)) by denying plaintiff's request to use paid sick leave. (Plaintiff represents that, after she filed her complaint, she "became aware of binding precedent" invalidating her claim in count III, and she does not seek review of the trial court's dismissal of that count.)

         ¶ 11 On April 26, 2018, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims. On April 27, 2018, plaintiff filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. On June 20, 2018, the cross-motions for summary judgment advanced to argument before the trial court. The trial court orally ruled:

"In order to adopt the interpretation of the statute urged by the plaintiff, the Court would have to find that the conditions set forth in the definition of sick leave create a vested right in the plaintiff and other similarly situated persons regardless of when those conditions occurred.
The accident of giving birth in the summertime, I don't believe creates any kind of a right in the plaintiff to sick leave at a future period in time that is not covered by the Act.
For instance, if there were a death in the plaintiff's immediate family that took place on June 15th, after the school year ended, she could not reasonably expect to have three days of sick leave for that occurrence, but the sick leave taking place after the school [year] started.
And the same could be said for any of the other occurrences that are set forth in the definition of sick leave.
I believe that the interpretation urged by the defendant is a proper interpretation of the law.
I believe that the condition[s] set forth in the statute have to be read in peri [sic] materia, and that the plaintiff is not entitled to the sick leave in addition to the family medical leave."

         ¶ 12 The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment and denied plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff timely appeals.

         ¶ 13 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 14 On appeal, plaintiff contends that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of defendant. Plaintiff argues that section 24-6 of the School Code plainly and unambiguously entitled her to use her accumulated sick leave for the birth of her child even though the leave would occur after the summer break. Plaintiff also makes the related argument that, if she was entitled to use her sick leave, then, under the Wage Act, she is entitled to the attorney fees incurred in enforcing her rights. The interpretation of section 24-6 will determine the outcome of plaintiff's second contention. Therefore, we turn to the parties' arguments regarding section 24-6.

         ¶ 15 A. Standard of Review

         ¶ 16 This case arises from the disposition of cross-motions for summary judgment. Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings, depositions, admissions, and affidavits show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 735 ILCS 5/2-1005(c) (West 2016). Where the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, they have conceded that there are no genuine issues of material fact and have agreed that only questions of law are involved. Nationwide Financial, LP v. Pobuda, 2014 IL 116717, ¶ 24. In such a situation, the parties request that the court decide the issues as a matter of law. Id. We review de novo the trial court's judgment on cross-motions for summary judgment. Id.

         ¶ 17 B. Construction of Section 24-6 of the School Code

         ¶ 18 The central issue presented in this case is the interpretation of section 24-6 of the School Code regarding the use of accumulated sick leave ...


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