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In Illinois, a non-contracted employee is one who serves at the employer's will, and the employer may discharge such an employee for any reason or no reason. However, an exception to this general rule of at-will employment arises where there has been a retaliatory discharge of the employee. A limited and narrow cause of action is recognized for the tort of retaliatory discharge. To state a valid retaliatory discharge cause of action, an employee must allege that (1) the employer discharged the employee, (2) in retaliation for the employee's activities, and (3) that the discharge violates a clear mandate of public policy.
Plaintiff Mark Turner, who was a trained and registered respiratory therapist, contended that the defendant, Memorial Medical Center, discharged him in retaliation for advising a surveyor for an independent, not-for-profit organization, which accredited the hospital for Medicare/Medicaid funding, of the discrepancy between the organization's standard of charting a patient's file immediately after care was provided and the hospital's requirement of charting at some point during the employee's shift. The plaintiff alleged in the complaint that his discharge therefore violated public policy relating to patient health and safety. The plaintiff further contended that his complaint sufficiently stated a claim for retaliatory discharge. The Circuit Court dismissed plaintiff's complaint with prejudice pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (2006)). Viewing the alleged facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the Court found that the complaint was legally insufficient. The Court concluded plaintiff failed to establish the existence of a public policy that a provision of law clearly mandated which Memorial allegedly violated by discharging plaintiff. The Appellate Court affirmed. The plaintiff appealed.
Did the plaintiff’s complaint support a cause of action for retaliatory discharge?
The Court noted that in order to state a valid retaliatory discharge cause of action, an employee must allege that (1) the employer discharged the employee, (2) in retaliation for the employee's activities, and (3) that the discharge violated a clear mandate of public policy. In this case, the Court found that the plaintiff failed to show a clearly mandated public policy of patient safety involved in patient record keeping under 410 ILCS 50/3(a) (2006) and 210 ILCS 85/6.17(a) (2006). Therefore, because the plaintiff's complaint failed to set forth a specific public policy, much less a clearly mandated public policy, it did not support a cause of action for retaliatory discharge. Accordingly, the judgment of the Appellate Court, which upheld the dismissal of the complaint, was affirmed.