Federal Appeals Court Finds Illinois Law Applies To Retaliatory Discharge Lawsuits, Placing Bigger Evidence Burden on Plaintiffs


Federal Appeals Court Finds Illinois Law Applies To Retaliatory Discharge Lawsuits, Placing Bigger Evidence Burden on Plaintiffs

On July 15, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit released its opinion in Gacek v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 09-3131 (July 15, 2010) – and it’s big news for plaintiffs seeking justice from evildoing employers. The news isn’t good.

Illinois Retaliatory Discharge Plaintiff’s Burden of Proof

In the case, the Seventh Circuit considered Illinois workers suing for justice in federal court after being harmed for retaliatory discharge.

What is retaliatory discharge? In some jurisdictions, it’s known as “wrongful discharge” or “wrongful dismissal” and it happens when someone is fired without good cause as the employer retaliates against them – firing them in response to an action that the worker has taken. Whistleblowers, for example, risk retaliatory discharge by their employer.

In this month’s decision, all the 7th Circuit justices agreed, issuing a unanimous opinion written by Judge Posner which states that the legal standard in these lawsuits is not the federal standard used in federal court pursuant to McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, but instead the Illinois state law standard which requires a plaintiff to prove causation.

What’s the difference? Under the federal standard found in McDonnell Douglas, the plaintiff only needs to show the employer’s reasons for firing the plaintiff were just pretext — unworthy of belief. That’s a lesser burden than having to prove causation.

Gacek and the Erie Doctrine

In the Gacek opinion, Judge Posner notes that in Clemons v. Mech. Devices Co., 704 N.E.2d 403, 407-08 (Ill. 1998), the Illinois Supreme Court rejected the McDonnell Douglas standard because the state high court was “… unwilling to expand the tort of retaliatory discharge by reducing plaintiff’s burden of proving the elements of the tort.”

With this precedent in place, the opinion relied upon the longstanding Erie doctrine which requires the federal courts to apply state law in substantive issues that come before it. The 7th Circuit felt legally bound to adhere to the Illinois Supreme Court’s rationale in Clemons.

No word yet on whether or not the decision will be appealed.

Contact Us

To learn more about the Kenneth J. Allen Law Group law firm, its jury verdicts and case results please fill out this Contact Form and information will be sent to you. Or call any of our offices in Valparaiso, Merrillville or Chicago.

Case Evaluation

Please call us, or fill in the Case Evaluation Form below, to learn more and arrange for a confidential FREE consultation.

Who was at fault?

Are you receiving medical treatment? YesNo

Have you had or do you need surgery? YesNo

Indiana|illinois

Allen Law Building

1109 Glendale Boulevard
Valparaiso, Indiana - 46383
219.465.6292

Justice Center

3700 E. Lincoln Hwy. (US 30)
Merrillville, Indiana - 46410
219.736.6292

Capital Center

201 N. Illinois Street South Tower
Indianapolis, Indiana - 46204
317.842.6926

Crain Communication Building

150 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, Illinois - 60601
312.236.6292

Lincolnshire Business Center

1000 Essington Road 
Joliet, Illinois - 60431
815.725.6292

Executive Office Building

15255 S 94th Ave #500
Orland Park, Illinois - 60462
708.460.6292