Legal Aid Chicago works to ensure that low-wage Chicagoland workers receive the equitable support that they deserve. We help our clients receive unemployment insurance benefits, receive wage claims, fight employment discrimination and wrongful termination, and more.
For 13 years, Jerry worked as a contract employee for the Illinois Department of Human Services. He loved his job as administrator of a federal grant program that helped reduce infant mortality and improve neonatal health—and according to his supervisors, he excelled at it.
One day, the department received notice of a program audit, where Jerry was asked to take the lead. An auditor inquired about a payment of nearly $100,000 and Jerry stated the payment was unauthorized and reported the person he thought was responsible, a fiscal manager. That manager made two claims about the payment that Jerry knew were wrong, so he corrected those statements.
The next day, Jerry’s supervisor told to him that he should have remained quiet and let the manager handle the questions. After this incident, when Jerry’s contract was considered for renewal, the employer refused, saying his job had to be filled by a union member under the collective bargaining agreement. This seemed unlikely, so Jerry sought assistance from Legal Aid Chicago.
Legal Aid Chicago took his case all the way to trial, convincing the judge not only that Jerry’s whistleblowing activity influenced the decision not to renew his contract, but that the law did not permit the employer to retaliate by refusing to renew a contract any more than it would permit firing—an issue that had not yet been determined by Illinois courts. The employer appealed, and the appellate court affirmed in a published decision, making clear that the law prohibits employers from retaliating against whistleblowing employees by refusing to renew their contracts just as it prohibits other adverse action. The resulting legal decision will help protect other vulnerable employees stay employed when they do the right thing by reporting wrongful conduct.
Today, Jerry is back on his feet, and seeing Legal Aid Chicago attorneys at work, inspired him to go to law school to become a lawyer himself.
“Becoming a lawyer is a dream come true.” Jerry said. “It’s a key step to me being able to provide the type of quality service that Legal Aid Chicago gave to me.”