Jerry Wynn had worked as a contractual program administrator with the Illinois Department of Human Services’ Chicago Healthy Start program for 13 years. During a routine audit of program funds, he uncovered a $100,000 payment he didn’t recognize, to a company where his boss had personal ties. He sent an email to the auditor and his superiors at the Department. His boss told him to stay quiet about it, but Jerry stuck to his guns and continued to work with the state auditors to investigate.
A few months later, Jerry’s boss unceremoniously terminated his contract. Jerry came to LAF, where a team of LAF attorneys and pro bono volunteers took his case. This team convinced the courts that Jerry’s firing was directly related to his reporting the improper payment to the auditor, and that he should be protected under whistleblower laws, which exist to ensure that employees can report wrongdoings without fearing retaliation.
The courts agreed, and Jerry was awarded a significant sum in back pay and interest, plus more than $160,000 in attorneys’ fees for LAF. “We’re pleased with the decision, which recognizes the importance of protecting whistleblowing employees from reprisal,” Miriam Hallbauer, an LAF attorney on Jerry’s team, told the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. This week, Jerry got his check.
Congratulations to Jerry, and to everyone at LAF (including Tim Huizenga and Matt Lango, pictured here with Jerry, as well as Jonathan DeLozano, Miriam Hallbauer, and volunteers Arthur Friedman and Susan Theiss) who helped fight for his protection and to clear his good name!
Earlier this month, most of LAF’s staff attended the 2017 Illinois Legal Aid Advocates Conference hosted by the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois. The two-day event is only put on every three years, and this year it was held at the McCormick Place in downtown Chicago. The conference gave our staff the chance to learn new things, meet new colleagues and reconnect with old ones, and renew their commitment to serving our most vulnerable populations. The guest speakers encouraged attendees to recognize inherent racial biases and remember the importance of the work. Many LAF attorneys led break out sessions and were featured panel speakers, which covered all legal areas our organization handles.
Fifteen years ago, Matthew Gray was dating a woman. Four years ago, after having been broken up for over a decade, he stabbed her, and was found guilty of domestic battery. On appeal, he successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Illinois Domestic Violence Act (IDVA) as it applied to his relationship with the victim, since they hadn’t dated for a number of years and were “just friends” at the time he attacked her. In essence, his argument was that because they were not currently dating, he should only be guilty of battery, not domestic battery, which is a more serious charge.
When the case made its way to the Illinois Supreme Court, LAF authored an amicus brief in partnership with pro bono attorneys from Dentons LLP, arguing that the Illinois legislature has intentionally continued to broaden the scope of protection for domestic violence survivors under the IDVA over the past 30 years, and that “the definition of a dating relationship under the IDVA should not be construed to restrict access to the legal system.”
The Illinois Supreme Court agreed in a unanimous decision issued on Friday, reversing the appellate court’s judgment and upholding the current, broad definition of a dating relationship. “This is an important decision because it upholds the constitutionality of the IDVA and protects survivors of domestic violence seeking Orders of Protection from former intimate partners, regardless of when the dating relationship ended,” says Jennifer Payne, Supervisory Attorney in LAF’s Children and Families Practice Group.
Whether it’s representing individual clients or advocacy on a broader scale, LAF is proud to be on the front lines fighting for survivors of domestic violence.