Don’t drop your guard just because Illinois court dismisses whistle-blower case

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Just won an Illinois whistle-blower case? Don’t rest easy yet!

If you’re an employer that’s also covered by federal law, brace yourself for a federal whistle-blower lawsuit, too.

Recent case: Heather Addis was an operations supervisor at the Dresden Nuclear Power Station, a power plant operated by Exelon Generation Co. southwest of Chicago. Her supervisors told her she wasn’t spending enough time making notes in employee files. She protested that she didn’t have enough time to do so and still take care of her plant security tasks.

She handed in her resignation and at the same time filed an internal safety complaint. Then she had a change of heart and tried to rescind her resignation.

When Exelon didn’t reinstate her, Addis sued in state court, alleging she had been fired in retaliation for reporting safety issues under Illinois’ whistle-blower laws.

The state court dismissed her suit, but, meanwhile, she filed an OSHA claim under the Energy Reorganization Act.

Exelon argued that she couldn’t sue twice for the same whistle-blower act, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

As the court saw the case, she had no choice but to sue twice—once in state court and once in federal court when her initial claim failed. She couldn’t pursue two lawsuits at the same time because the federal law requires OSHA to have a crack at the case. (Addis v. DOL, et al., No. 08-1009, 7th Cir., 2009)

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