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A man allegedly subjected to harassment at work about his sexual orientation cannot sue his former employer for negligence because workers compensation exclusive remedy provisions and the Human Rights Act bar his lawsuit, an Illinois appellate court has ruled.
Frederick Schroeder initially worked for inventory services business RGIS Inc. in Chicago, court records show. Mr. Schroeder alleged that in 2008 and 2009, an RGIS supervisor repeatedly directed several derogatory terms at him regarding his sexual orientation.
Mr. Schroeder quit after the supervisor called him a slur in front of co-workers, records show. But he returned to RGIS after the company agreed to investigate the supervisor and transfer Mr. Schroeder to an RGIS facility two hours away from his original work site.
Because of the long commute to the new location, Mr. Schroeder testified that he left his home for work at 5:30 a.m. to start work at 8 a.m., and that he did not finish work until 3 a.m. the next day. He testified that he often slept on the office floor four days a week and worked 20-hour days that included driving to various job sites.
After repeated attempts to tell supervisors that he could not keep up with the grueling work schedule, Mr. Schroeder resigned from RGIS in 2010, records show. He contended that his job and commute left him “extremely exhausted.” He also alleged that RGIS had not investigated his claims of harassment by his former supervisor, as well as an operations manager that had a hand in his location reassignment.
Mr. Schroeder went on to sue RGIS for “physical injury, medical expenses, severe mental anguish, emotional distress, humiliation, loss of income, and pain and suffering” resulting from the alleged harassment and stressful work schedule, records show.
RGIS countered in court filings that Mr. Schroeder's lawsuit was barred by workers comp exclusive remedy provisions, since the alleged harassment and related emotional trauma occurred during the course of his work, and the Human Rights Ac, because Mr. Schroeder's claims were connected to civil rights violations.
A Cook County, Ill., circuit judge found in favor of RGIS, ruling that Mr. Schroeder suffered “physical mental” injury from his work schedule, and that his claims fell under workers comp law.
Mr. Schroeder appealed, arguing that he could prove “intentional infliction of emotional distress” by RGIS supervisors without relying on civil rights arguments. He also argued that his emotional and mental injuries would not be compensable under Illinois workers comp law.
However, the 2nd Division Illinois Appellate Court unanimously affirmed the circuit court's ruling on Tuesday.
In its ruling, the appellate court agreed that Mr. Schroeder's emotional and mental trauma could be covered by workers comp and that his alleged harassment was “inextricably linked” to civil rights violations under the Human Rights Act.
“We agree with the circuit court's finding that plaintiff's injuries were 'physical mental' because 'plaintiff allege[d] that the defendant worked him so hard and for so long a period of time that he could [not] physically take it anymore, and [a]nd as a result of the physical exhaustion, he suffered emotional distress,'“ the court's ruled.