Court Sides with New York Mets in Slip and Fall Case

Jul 28, 2006

An Illinois state appeals court has affirmed a lower court’s ruling, dismissing the claim of the assistant trainer with the Chicago Cubs, who had sued the club for retaliatory discharge.
 
The court found specifically that contractual employees, such as the plaintiff, cannot bring a claim for retaliatory discharge when employers fail to renew an employment contract.
 
Plaintiff Sandy Krum was the assistant athletic trainer for the Cubs from 2001 until 2004. While he was licensed as required by the Illinois Athletic Trainers Practice Act (225 ILCS 5/4 (West 2004)), the Cubs’ head athletic trainer did not have a license. After discovering this fact, Krum met with the Cubs’ general manager on August 16, 2004. During their three-and-a-half hour meeting, Krum informed the general manager “of numerous improper events that had occurred during the course of the athletic trainers’ duties, including the head athletic trainer’s failure to have a license pursuant to the Athletic Trainers Practice Act,” recounted the court.
 
“In early October 2004, during one of the last games of the season, a member of the Cubs’ board of directors approached Krum in the dugout and told Krum, ‘we are sorry for putting you through this and we will handle it next week,’” according to the court.
 
A week later, the Cubs fired Krum.
 
Krum sued, alleging that the Cubs terminated him in retaliation because he had informed the general manager that “the head athletic trainer, the person responsible for making certain that the athletes of the Cubs were able to perform to the best of their ability and to quickly and adequately rehabilitate themselves from any injury, was not licensed to so act in the State of Illinois.”
 
The Cubs filed a motion to dismiss Krum’s complaint pursuant to sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Code, which was supported with an affidavit from the Cubs’ general manager as well as a copy of Krum’s employment contract. The circuit court granted the motion pursuant to section 2-615. Krum appealed.
 
Among his argument, Krum maintained that the circuit court erred in holding that the failure to renew an employment contract for a fixed duration could not satisfy the “discharge” element in a cause of action for retaliatory discharge. “Specifically, Krum argues that Illinois courts have previously recognized retaliatory discharge actions based on an employer’s failure to rehire, and that other jurisdictions have recognized the failure to renew a contract as actionable retaliatory conduct,” wrote the court. The Cubs countered that the authorities Krum relied on were shaky at best. The court agreed.
 
“Here, because Krum’s employment was subject to a contract of fixed duration, he was not an at-will employee,” wrote the court. “Krum is unable to cite a single case where Illinois courts have permitted a plaintiff to bring a retaliatory discharge claim on the basis of a fixed term employment contract. Nevertheless, he contends that ‘Illinois courts have long recognized that retaliatory discharge actions for failure to rehire or recall are valid.’ In each case upon which Krum relies, the underlying claims were based on the Worker’s Compensation Act (820 ILCS 310/4(h)(West 2004)), which specifically prohibits such retaliatory conduct.”
 
What’s more, the Athletic Trainers Practice Act contains no language prohibiting retaliatory employment conduct, according to the court. “Since our supreme court has consistently sought to restrict the common law tort of retaliatory discharge, we hold that, absent a statutory basis, contractual employees, such as Krum, cannot bring a claim for retaliatory discharge when employers fail to renew an employment contract,” wrote the court.
 
Sandy A. Krum v. Chicago National League Ball Club, Inc., D/B/A The Chicago Cubs; App. Ct. Ill., 1st Dist., 3d Div.; No. 1-05-2342; 2006 Ill. App. LEXIS 352; 5/3/06
 
Attorneys of Record: (for Appellee) John W. Powers and Brian M. Stolzenbach, Seyfarth Shaw, LLP. (for appellant) Robert W. Fioretti and John B. Lower, Fioretti & Lower, LTD. Lonny Ben Ogus.
 


 

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