The Chicago Employment Law Blog

May 2010 Archives

The U.S. Supreme Court reached a unanimous decision in favor of more than 6,000 black applicants for Chicago firefighting jobs in the 1990s, the Chicago Tribune reported. The nine high court justices agreed that the written exam for the Chicago Fire Dept. had a "disparate impact" based on race.

One of the Illinois employment lawyers representing the plaintiffs estimated that the damages could reach up to $100 million. Applicants who had "qualified" scores on their tests but were excluded from consideration may seek damages from the city, but this case is not quite over yet.

Margaret Walsh, a former employee at the Oakton Community College's Business Institute, has filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination of disability because of her cancer diagnosis, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. She claims her ovarian cancer diagnosis, which she told her supervisor less than a year before her termination, is the reason she was fired.

Instead of contacting an Illinois employment lawyer and launching a state lawsuit, Margaret Walsh filed a discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. An EEOC spokesman said it has not yet decided whether it intends to sue the employer and declined to comment.

A senior manager of the Des Plaines-based Business Institute, Margaret Walsh was approved for an unpaid leave of absence that ended in May of last year.

The Northwest Herald reported that Illinois' jobless rates fell for the first time in nearly four years. But before you pop the champagne corks, keep in mind that the jobless rate for April still was a dismal 11.2 percent; that's a slight improvement over the state's 11.5 percent unemployment rate recorded for March.

The Illinois Dept. of Employment Security reported that the state added 19,100 jobs in April. IDES Director Maureen O'Donnell said in a statement that while the figures are encouraging, it's too soon to celebrate:

"As jobs are created and people re-enter the work force encouraged about their ability to find a job, the unemployment rate might fluctuate for several months before stabilizing."

A waitress at a Charlotte, North Carolina pizzeria was canned after her managers caught wind of her Facebook gripe about a "cheap piece of s---" customer, the Charlotte Observer reported. It wouldn't be the first time a Facebook comment has cost someone their job, since (as any Chicago employment lawyer would tell you) employers have the right to protect their image.

Not that former Brixx Pizza waitress Ashley Johnson's alibi really matters now, but she said a couple that came in for lunch left what she thought was a lousy tip after staying at her table for three hours. In the restaurant business, the key to success as a waitress is quick turnover.

But so is humility and taking the good tippers with the bad.

Chicago job seekers have a new avenue to look for jobs.

The public-private partnership World Business Chicago has launched a series of programs targeting unemployed, middle-income workers for tech-related jobs, the Chicago Tribune reported. Anything that could give job seekers an edge is welcome in Chicago, which had an unemployment rate of 11.7 percent in March; that's more than double the city's 5.8 percent jobless rate recorded in December 2007.

Chicago Career Tech, as the series of programs is called, began yesterday and hopes to target workers such as teachers and middle managers who lost their jobs during the recession.

Rita Athas, president of World Business Chicago, told reporters that this has been a middle-class recession:

"Most programs are geared toward low-income residents, but if you are white-collar, middle class, there are probably no programs specifically geared to that group."

The Lake County News-Sun reported that the termination suit brought by North Chicago School District Superintendent Lauri Hakanen will be heard in federal court. The suit originally was filed in Lake County Circuit Court last month.

Lauri Hakanen's suit claims that the School Board violated his contract when he was demoted on March 18 and replaced with a new superintendent. Illinois employment lawyer Ed Copeland said the demotion violated the terms of his client's four-year, performance-based contract:

"We feel the hearing he received was not a fair hearing and was not handled in a way that would comport with constitutional provisions of due process."

His lawsuit claims four counts that include breach of contract and violation of due process. 

Chicago Fire Commissioner John Brooks retired from his post just two months after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a sexual harassment claim against him was allegedly swept under the rug, according to the newspaper.

As we wrote about on March 11, John Brooks was the subject of an investigation into the alleged sexual harassment of a lower-ranking employee. Meanwhile, Office of Compliance Chief Anthony Boswell was accused of stalling this and other sexual harassment claims against city officials.

Perhaps even more frustrating than the recession itself are reports of an economic recovery in the absence of actual job growth, begging the question of who's really recovering. Hoping to stoke employment in the state, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn unveiled a jobs program called "Put Illinois to Work" last week, as reported in the Southtown Star.

So far it's off to a solid start, as 349 employers agreed to hire north of 2,800 workers (as of May 6). Billed as an anti-poverty plan, it's designed to help 15,000 unemployed, low-income people get back to work.

Here's how it works: Private, public and nonprofit employers are urged to sign up for the joint state and federal subsidy program. Qualified employers are then responsible for providing the positions, training and management; public funds are used for the recipient workers' wages.

Chicago City Council will now have until June 3 to vote on whether retail giant Wal-Wart may open stores within the city's boundaries, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Although Cook County is starving for tax revenue, labor leaders have expressed concerns about Wal-Mart's plans.

Mayor Richard Daley echoed the tax revenue argument and said people are trying to complicate the issue too much:

"The largest sales tax receipt for Cook County government is Wal-Mart. It's unbelievable what percentage they give... We need money here in sales tax, property tax."

Not so fast, say labor leaders and some city aldermen.

The Peoria Journal Star reported on an unusual employment discrimination claim from downstate involving teacher and boys basketball coach Jeff Herkelman. In a split 4-3 decision, the Putnam County School Board decided not to renew his contract after two years of service with positive reviews.

The March 15 decision was "an intentional violation" of nondiscrimination law as set forth by the Illinois Human Rights Act, Illinois employment lawyer Nile Williamson told reporters:

"We believe that District 535 discriminated against Coach Herkelman in its decision not to renew compared to its treatment of other similarly situated employees."

So just what kind of discrimination is the former teacher/coach, who is a white male and does not claim a disability, alleging?

Chicago Public Radio WBEZ reported late last week that the Illinois House of Representatives have passed legislation aimed at curbing wage theft. Senate Bill 3568 was introduced as a way to better enforce laws against wage theft, as we discussed in this blog in April. 

Workers in low-wage industries throughout Cook County lose at least $7 million in unpaid overtime, lack of access to workers' compensation, wage violations, working off the books and other types of wage theft, according to University of Illinois at Chicago professor Nik Theodore.

Some of the most common victims of wage theft are undocumented immigrants, who usually fear that they will be deported if they go to the authorities. But any Chicago employment lawyer will say that laws protect illegal immigrants from such penalties if they step forward with a legitimate claim.

It's perfectly legal for employers to run credit checks on prospective new hires, even though a growing cadre of legislators and labor experts say the practice only punishes people who need jobs the most. The Chicago Tribune reported about Chicago-based credit agency TransUnion's opposition to attempts at outlawing the practice.

Illinois employment lawyer Adam Klein has filed numerous employment discrimination suits against major corporations for a variety of claims. Although employment credit checks are not considered discriminatory, he believes they ought to be:

"If you deny people a job, they just become more poor. It's not good for anybody. It's not good for the recovery of the economy."

The only people benefiting from these employment credit checks, he said, are the credit bureaus.