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Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against School District Because Employee Waited Seven Months After Resigning to File

By October 7, 2014April 29th, 2015News

In Lashever v. Zion-Benton Township High School, Laura Lashever, a former school psychologist at Zion-Benton Township High School, sued the district for allegedly violating the Whistleblower Act. 2014 IL App (2d) 130947. Lashever learned that a student reported sexual abuse by a family member to a school counselor and that the counselor did not report the abuse to the Department of Children and Family Services (“DCFS”) as required by law. Lashever mentioned this failure to report at a meeting and she was allegedly reprimanded for raising the matter. Eventually, she reported the abuse herself to DCFS. She stated that thereafter, district employees retaliated against her by drastically curtailing her responsibilities and falsely accusing her of unprofessional behavior toward coworkers, creating a hostile work environment and causing her to resign. Furthermore, she argued that the district’s actions violated the Whistleblower Act, which prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee for disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency where the employee reasonably believes that the information discloses a violation of law.

The district argued that Lashever’s lawsuit was barred by the doctrine of laches, which requires lawsuits to be dismissed when the plaintiff unreasonably delays in filing a lawsuit and the defendant is prejudiced by this delay. The Court noted that when applying the doctrine of laches to lawsuits in which a discharged public sector employee seeks reinstatement and/or backpay, a delay of longer than six months from the date of termination to the filing of the lawsuit is unreasonable and justifies a dismissal if the plaintiff did not have a reasonable excuse for the delay and if the employer suffers prejudice by having to pay both a replacement worker’s salary and a successful plaintiff’s back wages during that period of delay.

In particular, the district argued that there was an unreasonable delay of seven months from the time that Lashever resigned until she filed a lawsuit and during that period, the district hired an independent contractor to perform the services that she performed. The Court noted that although Lashever indicated that she was subjected to a hostile work environment for most of the 2011-2012 school year, she did not resign until the end of August 2012, after the school year just started, forcing the district to quickly fill her position. She then waited until April to file the lawsuit, which may have complicated the process of securing a permanent successor. Therefore, the Court agreed with the district and dismissed Lashever’s suit due to her delay.