On November 30, 2022, Kankakee County Circuit Court Judge Lindsay Parkhurst granted a motion to dismiss with prejudice in favor of the Manteno Community Fire Protection District and against a former probationary firefighter who had been employed for nine months before he was terminated by the District.
The firefighter filed his first Complaint against the District and its fire chief a year earlier, alleging that he was fired in violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, which prohibits an employee from being fired for reporting misconduct to a governmental agency. The District moved to dismiss and the District’s motion was granted in January 2022, but the firefighter was given an opportunity by the Court to file an Amended Complaint. The District again moved to dismiss and the District’s motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint was granted with the firefighter being given one final opportunity to replead his allegations against the District under the Whistleblower Act.
In dismissing the Second Amended Complaint, this time with prejudice, Judge Parkhurst ruled that the Whistleblower Act represents a narrow exception to the general rule in Illinois of at will employment. The Court further observed that no Whistleblower Act claim could stand when an employee was merely complaining to his own employer about that employer’s misconduct. The Court found that the firefighter was only alleging in his Complaint that he had complained to his supervisors about the District’s alleged failures (to train its firefighters and to properly report an incident in which two firefighters were injured). The Court further held that, to proceed with a claim under the Whistleblower Act, an employee must allege that he had complained to a governmental agency about “a violation of a state or federal law, rule or regulation.” Although the firefighter was alleging that the District had not complied with its policy manual, the Court concluded that the firefighter had not presented facts showing a violation of state or federal law sufficient to proceed on a claim under the Whistleblower Act. The Court further held that dismissal with prejudice was appropriate because the firefighter had already filed three insufficient complaints and that the firefighter’s failure to plead a proper complaint suggested that giving the firefighter additional attempts to replead would be futile.
Mike Condon and Jason Rose represented the District and its fire chief in the case.