Last week the Northern District of Illinois denied in full Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss in the matter of Spratt v. Bellwood Public Library (18-cv-6573) in a case briefed by Alexis Martin of Caffarelli & Associates Ltd. Ms. Spratt worked for the Bellwood Public Library for 25 years, serving as the Director for the last 4 years of her tenure. Throughout her final three years of service, Ms. Spratt reported, objected to, and refused to participate in numerous unlawful activities, which, she alleges, resulted in a campaign of harassment against her including repeatedly trying to subvert her statutory authority as Director and remove her from her position. In June of 2017, Ms. Spratt filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Promptly following her charge, several Board members increased their harassment including instigating an investigation into Ms. Spratt, attempting to bar her from her office, and taking legal action against her. Ultimately, Ms. Spratt was forced to resign, but then was actually terminated and escorted from the premises prior to the effective date of her resignation.
Ms. Spratt filed a Complaint alleging retaliation in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and four counts of retaliation in violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act. In its Motion, the Defendant argued, among other things, that the Tort Immunity Act barred the claims, she failed to state a claim for constructive discharge, and that she could not proceed with a claim of termination when she had already submitted her resignation. The Court rejected Defendant’s arguments and allowed Ms. Spratt’s claims to proceed. In its ruling, the Court found that the Tort Immunity Act does not apply to Illinois Whistleblower Act claims. The Court also held that Ms. Spratt can proceed under a theory of constructive discharge and actual termination because her resignation had not yet gone in to effect at the time the Defendant terminated her and barred her from the premises. The Court’s holding that the Tort Immunity Act does not apply to claims under the Illinois Whistleblower Act harmonizes the intention of both statues and strengthens the ability of public servants such as Ms. Spratt to seek recourse when subjected to retaliation for their efforts to root out public corruption. Moreover, recognizing that an employer may terminate the employee following a constructive discharge is a significant step in acknowledging the array of adverse actions that whistleblowers face.