Settlement reached in railroad crossing death

On,  April 16, 2010, Katie Ann Lunn was driving over railroad tracks in University Park when she was struck and killed by an Amtrak train.  Her father filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Illinois Central Railroad Co. and Wisconsin Central Ltd.  The estate alleged that the company failed to maintain warning signals for the oncoming trains.  A $6 million settlement was reached between the parties one day after trial commenced in the Circuit Court of Cook County.  An independent investigation by the Federal Railroad Administration revealed that certain warning lights and bells had been deactivated.  Lunn, age 26, was a dance instructor.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Against High Rise

The mother of a woman who was killed in a fire filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the companies that manage the building.  Shantel McCoy died on January 9 during a fire.  Ms. McCoy died when she arrived on the 12th floor by elevator.  According to the lawsuit, the Plaintiff claims that building lacked a sprinkler system.  The mother further claimed that the companies failed to warn her daughter of the fire, and allowed her to use the elevators when the companies knew it was not safe to do so.  Eugene K. Hollander handled a similar negligence matter.  In that case, the issue was whether there were operable smoke detectors to alert the residents of a fire.  My office retained an expert concerning how much time the smoke detectors would have afforded the residents of impending danger.  The evidence showed that the safety devices would have allowed the residents plenty of time to exit the burning building.  The case settled for a substantial sum before trial.

Federal Appeal Court Rejects Retaliation Claim

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling by a lower court dismissing Samone Redd's retaliation claim.  Redd was a probationary employee employed by the Cook County Department of Corrections from November, 2006 through October, 2007.  Redd was asked to resign after she failed to cooperate with an investigation.  She sued, and brought claims for retaliatory discharge, tortious interference and procedural due process.  Redd witnessed a man  attack a woman.  Redd refused to cooperate with the investigation of the crime.  The prosecutors contacted her employer about her lack of cooperation, and the Cook County Sheriff's Office launched their own investigation.  In the sheriff's office investigation, the investigator concluded that Redd violated several department rules and decided to terminate her employment.  Redd contended that she was fired because she refused to perjure herself.  The appeals court, however, rejected the claim as Redd had no evidence that her discharge was actually retaliatory. Thus, she could not demonstrate that she was fired for exercising her First Amendment rights.  The Court also rejected her other claims, noting that the sheriff's office has discretion in terminating its employees.

Federal Judge Allows Will County Jail Sexual Harassment Case To Go Forward

A recent ruling by a federal judge permits a former Will County correctional officer to pursue her sexual harassment case to proceed against the County.  The Plaintiff, Marlis O'Leary, worked at the Will County Jail from 2006 to 2007.  She alleged that male co-workers frequently viewed pornography and maintained an offensive "Book of Shame."  The Book of Shame allegedly was created among the male correctional officers to see who could first sleep with the Plaintiff.  O'Leary claimed that Lt. Marty Shifflet, a former Will County deputy chief condoned the pornographic activity.  In court papers, the sheriff's office says that the book was simply a "photo album containing humorous booking photos of men and women alike."  The federal judge held that there was enough of a claim so that a jury could determine "whether the atmosphere at the (jail) was permeated with incessant unwelcome sexual advances." The Plaintiff's attorney stated that six other female correctional officers complained about being sexually harassed at the jail.  The County maintains that O'Leary left her employment after suffering from a nervous breakdown involving an alleged inmate fight.  O'Leary disputed that.  The case will either proceed to trial in the near future or settle.  When The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander represents clients in these kinds of cases, we advise our clients to maintain logs or diaries of all of the untoward conduct, including names, dates, and corroborating witnesses.

Illinois Appellate Court Limits Scope of Illinois Gender Violence Act

An 18 year old woman, only identified as "Jane Doe" in court papers, attended a fraternity party at the University of Chicago.  She became heavily intoxicated, and claimed that "Eric" later raped her at an off-campus apartment.  Doe sued the fraternity under the Illinois Gender Violence Act, claiming that the fraternity knew or should have known that she could become a victim of sexual assault after becoming drunk at the fraternity party.  Doe relied upon this state statute as opposed to common law negligence as it is a powerful remedy.  The law can provide for punitive damages or the recovery of attorney's fees to a successful litigant.  The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander often uses this potent weapon when litigating sexual harassment cases.  The fraternity filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that it was not a "person" as defined by the law.  The trial court granted the motion, and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the ruling.  The Appellate Court concluded that the alleged conduct constituted gender violence, but there was no connection between the fraternity and the alleged assault.  The reviewing court also reasoned that because this was a case of social host liability, Illinois law forbade Doe from pursuing a case against the fraternity.

Illinois Supreme Court Clarifies Law on Non-Compete Agreements

On December 1, 2011, the Illinois Supreme Court released its opinion in the case of Reliable Fire Equipment Company v. Arrendondo.  In this case, the state high court clarified the law concerning non-compete agreements.  These were the facts in the case.  Reliable Fire Equipment sells, installs and services fire extinguishers and fire and alarm systems.  In 1992, the company hired Rene Garcia as a salesman.  In 1998, it hired Arnold Arredondo as a salesman.  Both employees signed restrice covenants, or non-compete agreements, agreeing to not compete with the company for a period of one year following the termination of their employment from Reliable Fire.  The restriction extended to Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.  Both employees further agreed not to solicit the company's clients or solicit or induce the company's employees from leaving their employment during the restriction period.  In 2004, while Arredondo was still employed by Reliable Fire, he formed a company called High Rise Security Systems, LLC.  High Rise was a competitor to his employer.  Garcia also agreed to become employed by High Rise.  In August, 2004, Reliable Fire's CEO got wind of High Rise and questioned Arredondo and Garcia about the new company - both denied that the formed such an entity.  Arredondo resigned shortly thereafter, and the company later fired Garcia.  Reliable Fire a lawsuit against Arredondo, Garcia and High Rise alleging that they violated Reliable Fire's restrictive covenants.  The defendants filed a Counterclaim, contending that the agreements were unenforceable.  The trial court agreed, and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the decision.  The case wound up before the state's high court.  The supreme court stated that the agreements can be upheld if there is consideration to support the agreement, and if the restraints are reasonable.  To determine reasonableness, the court must look at: whether the restraints are necessary to enforce a legitimate business interest of the company, it cannot impose an undue hardship on the promisor or the public, and the scope of the restraint must otherwise be reasonable.  In clarifying the law, the high court held that whether a legitimate business interest exists will depend on the totality of the circumstances of the individual case.  The court overturned the appellate court ruling and sent the case back down to the trial court.

Supreme Court Gives Churches a Pass In Employment Decisions

The United States Supreme Court ruled last Wednesday that churches cannot be sued in employment discrimination suits where the plaintiff is a teacher who serves as a minister of the faith.  Lower courts had previously ruled that churches were immune from such claims, holding that the Constitution included a ministerial exception that insulates churches and schools from government interference.  In deciding in favor of the churches, Justice John Roberts relied upon the First Amendment, and noted that churches "must be free to choose who will guide it on its way."  The ruling will likely not purely secular teachers from bringing employment discrimination claims.

Accused Joliet Priest Attempts to Take His Life

A Joliet mother called the Diocese of Joliet to complain about the relationship between newly ordained priest Alejandro Flores and her younger son.  A few days later, the priest was found amidst toppled pews at St. Mary's Carmelite Church in Joliet.  In an apparant suicide attempt, Flores allegedly leaped 20 feet from the choir loft to the ground.  Flores was supposed to meet with authorities that morning to discuss the allegations.  Following the mother's complaint of sexual abuse, church authorities removed Flores from having any contact with children.  A Chicago Tribune examination revealed that at least three supervisors found Flores alone with the mother's children before he was ordained.  The newspaper also discovered that Flores was sent for psychological treatment and evaluation at least twice after he admitted viewing pornography on a church computer.  Flores is currently serving a four year prison term for criminal sexual assault.  When Flores pled guilty, he acknowledged abusing the youngest boy from 2005 to 2010.  Flores' conduct was apparently so disturing, that several parishioners complained to church authorities.  Flores was assigned to St. Mary Parish of West Chicago.  Critics claim that the Joliet Diocese did not investigate Flores promptly enough, and that the abuse could have been avoided or limited.

Comcast Hit With Race Discrimination Lawsuit

Comcast Corporation was recently sued in federal court in Chicago by eleven current and former employees of the communcations giant, alleging that they were discriminated against on the basis of race.  The employees, technicians who install equipment, charge that the company fostered a racially hostile work environment becasue they were called derogatory names such as "ghetto techs" or "lazy techs." The plaintiffs also claim that their work facility was infested with bugs and rats.  The technicians further claim that they were required to install defective and/or roach infested equipment in residents' homes, which were predominantly African American.  The employees are seeking class action status.  The plaintiffs hope to recover lost wages and benefits as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Illinois Appellate Court Clarifies Whistleblower Statute

The Illinois Appellate Court just issued an opinion clarifying the Illinois Whistleblower Statute.  Curtis Brame was a lieutentant with the North Chicago Police Department.  He brought suit against North Chicago, the mayor and police chief, alleging that the chief retaliated against him once he came forward with information that the chief was committing criminal activity.  The defendants filed motions to be dismissed from the case, and the trial court agreed.  On appeal, Brame raised an issue of first impression - whether bringing such claims directly to his employer was protected under the Act.  Previously, Illinois courts concluded that a plaintiff must bring such complaints to a third party agency.  The reviewing court agreed with the plaintiff, and held that the plain language of the act allowed him to bring such concerns directly to his employer.  We believe that this is a common sense approach to the law and will allow many more aggrieved employees access to the courts.