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.