On April 14, 2022, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the entry of summary judgment on claims under the Illinois Whistleblower Act and Illinois Jury Act, concluding that the plaintiff was not terminated for engaging in protected activity.  The case is Perez v. Staples Contract & Commercial LLC, No. 21-cv-2601.

Background

Plaintiff, a sales representative, was placed on an associate success plan (the “Plan”) in March 2016, after his performance continued to fall below expectations.  In May 2016, after the Plan had commenced, plaintiff was summoned for jury duty in Illinois state court.

Separately, in early 2016, Plaintiff allegedly refused to participate in the sale of a laundry detergent product to a client based in New York after learning that the sale of the particular detergent was prohibited under New York law due to its chemical makeup.  The sale of the product was not prohibited under Illinois law.

Plaintiff’s employment was terminated on June 10, 2016, based on his purported failure to meet performance expectations under the Plan.  Plaintiff filed suit in Illinois state court alleging claims of retaliation in violation of the Illinois Jury Act and Illinois Whistleblower Act.  Specifically, Plaintiff alleged his employment was terminated because he served on a jury and refused to participate in the laundry detergent sale. Defendant removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the district court granted summary judgment for the Defendant. Plaintiff appealed the ruling.

Seventh Circuit’s Ruling

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the entry of summary judgment in the Defendant’s favor, concluding that Plaintiff failed to show he engaged in protected activity under the Illinois Whistleblower Act when he refused to participate in the sale of laundry detergent in New York.  The court observed that the Illinois Whistleblower Act states that “[a]n employer may not retaliate against an employee for refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of a State or federal law, rule, or regulation.”  The court concluded that the word “State” under the Illinois Whistleblower Act refers to “Illinois,” and thus asserted violations of a law of another state (here, the New York environmental regulation cited by Plaintiff) could not amount to protected activity under the Illinois Whistleblower Act.

In addition, the court observed that Plaintiff failed to show that the Defendant acted with a retaliatory motive.  “Most importantly,” the court noted, Plaintiff’s “‘termination was immediately preceded by an intervening event unrelated to [his] complaints’—here, his three-month failure to comply with the plan’s requirements.”

Last, the court determined that Plaintiff failed to show his jury service was a proximate cause for his termination under the Illinois Jury Act because his supervisor’s purported facial reactions and comments after being informed of his jury service were not enough for a reasonable jury to conclude that Plaintiff was discharged because of his jury service.

Significance

The Staples decision confirms that the Illinois Whistleblower Act only encompasses violations of Illinois laws, rules, or regulations.  In other words, an employee does not engage in protected activity under the Illinois Whistleblower Act by raising a complaint about a potential violation of a different state’s law.

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Photo of Steven J. Pearlman Steven J. Pearlman

Steven J. Pearlman is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and Co-Head of the Whistleblowing & Retaliation Group and the Restrictive Covenants, Trade Secrets & Unfair Competition Group.

Steven’s practice covers the full spectrum of employment law, with a particular…

Steven J. Pearlman is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and Co-Head of the Whistleblowing & Retaliation Group and the Restrictive Covenants, Trade Secrets & Unfair Competition Group.

Steven’s practice covers the full spectrum of employment law, with a particular focus on defending companies against claims of employment discrimination, retaliation and harassment; whistleblower retaliation; restrictive covenant violations; theft of trade secrets; and wage-and-hour violations. He has successfully tried cases in multiple jurisdictions, and defended one of the largest Illinois-only class actions in the history of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. He also secured one of only a few ex parte seizures orders that have been issued under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, and obtained a world-wide injunction in federal litigation against a high-level executive who jumped ship to a competitor.

Reporting to boards of directors, their audit committees, CEOs and in-house counsel, Steven conducts sensitive investigations and has testified in federal court. His investigations have involved complaints of sexual harassment involving C-suite officers; systemic violations of employment laws and company policies; and fraud, compliance failures and unethical conduct.

Steven was recognized as Lawyer of the Year for Chicago Labor & Employment Litigation in the 2023 edition of The Best Lawyers in America. He is a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers.  Chambers describes Steven as an “outstanding lawyer” who is “very sharp and very responsive,” a “strong advocate,” and an “expert in his field.” Steven was 1 of 12 individuals selected by Compliance Week as a “Top Mind.” Earlier in his career, he was 1 of 5 U.S. lawyers selected by Law360 as a “Rising Star Under 40” in the area of employment law and 1 of “40 Illinois Attorneys Under Forty to Watch” selected by Law Bulletin Publishing Company. Steven is a Burton Award Winner (U.S. Library of Congress) for “Distinguished Legal Writing.”

Steven has served on Law360’s Employment Editorial Advisory Board and is a Contributor to Forbes.com. He has appeared on Bloomberg News (television and radio) and Yahoo! Finance, and is regularly quoted in leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has engaged Steven to serve as lead counsel on amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court and federal circuit courts of appeal. He was appointed to serve as a Special Assistant Attorney General for the State of Illinois in employment litigation matters. He has presented with the Solicitor of the DOL, the Acting Chair of the EEOC, an EEOC Commissioner, Legal Counsel to the EEOC and heads of the SEC, CFTC and OSHA whistleblower programs. He is also a member of the Sedona Conference, focusing on trade secret matters.

Photo of Edward Young Edward Young

Edward “Eddie” C. Young is a senior counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department and a member of the following Firm practice groups: Restrictive Covenants & Trade Secrets; Discrimination, Harassment & Title VII; and Whistleblowing & Retaliation.

Eddie represents employers in all…

Edward “Eddie” C. Young is a senior counsel in the Labor & Employment Law Department and a member of the following Firm practice groups: Restrictive Covenants & Trade Secrets; Discrimination, Harassment & Title VII; and Whistleblowing & Retaliation.

Eddie represents employers in all aspects of employment law, with a concentration on litigating complex employment disputes of all types before federal and state courts throughout the country, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, state and local human rights commissions and arbitral tribunals (e.g., FINRA and AAA).  In particular, Eddie has successfully litigated employment-related disputes alleging breach of non-compete agreements, theft of trade secrets, discrimination, sexual harassment, whistleblower retaliation, wage and hour violations, including employee misclassification claims, breach of contract, defamation, fraud and other business-related torts.  Eddie has obtained a world-wide injunction to enforce a client’s non-competition restriction on a former executive, successfully defended a client through summary judgment and appeal against retaliation claims brought by a former General Counsel, represented Fortune 500 companies in defense of high-profile harassment claims associated with the #metoo movement, and provided representation to several professional sports leagues.  He also has significant appellate experience, including successfully representing clients before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the First, Second and Seventh Circuits, as well as before the United States Supreme Court.  Eddie often draws on his litigation experience to help clients avoid the courtroom by effectuating positive change in the workplace through impactful training, counseling and developing robust employment policies.

Working in a wide range of industries, Eddie represented clients in food services, financial services, medical devices, telecommunications, higher education, sports, retail, real estate and others.

Eddie has been recognized as “One to Watch” by Best Lawyers in America since 2021 and as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers since 2017. He also regularly advises clients, writes and speaks on cutting-edge legal issues, including the use of Artificial Intelligence in the workplace, and legal issues arising from the collection and use of employee biometric information.

Eddie maintains an active pro bono practice, including on-going representation of a certified class of approximately 65,000 visually disabled Chicagoans in litigation challenging the City’s lack of accessible pedestrian crosswalks.  Eddie is also a member of the Firm’s Pro-Bono Committee and is a three-time recipient of the Firm’s “Golden Gavel” award for his significant pro bono contributions.

Prior to joining Proskauer, Eddie was a cum laude graduate from Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He also obtained a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and Industrial Relations from Loyola University Chicago Graduate School of Business. He began his practice at a national management-side employment law firm, and has also worked in the corporate human resources department of a national tax consulting firm and as a Fellow with the Illinois Human Rights Commission.

Photo of Dakota D. Treece Dakota D. Treece

Dakota is an associate in the Labor and Employment Law Department and a member of the Employment Litigation & Arbitration Group. She regularly defends employers in single-plaintiff actions involving discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims under statutes such as Title VII and the Americans…

Dakota is an associate in the Labor and Employment Law Department and a member of the Employment Litigation & Arbitration Group. She regularly defends employers in single-plaintiff actions involving discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims under statutes such as Title VII and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as under various Illinois state laws. She has handled such cases before state and federal courts, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and the Illinois Department of Labor. In addition, Dakota conducts employment-related investigations.

Dakota also provides day-to-day counseling to employers to heighten compliance and minimize the risk of litigation.  Her counseling focuses on issues related to hiring and firing, personnel policies and leave and accommodation requests. She also has experience drafting employee handbooks and company policies. Dakota is a frequent contributor to Proskauer’s Law and the Workplace blog.

While in law school, Dakota served as a law clerk at the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), where she worked on a variety of labor relations issues. She also was a member and published author in the DePaul Law Review.