Wood Dale teacher loses birth-related sick-day case appeal

 
 
Updated 4/16/2020 6:23 PM

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a teacher who gave birth the day before classes let out for summer was not entitled to use the 28 days of paid sick time she took when school resumed more than two months later.

The court voted 5-0 against Wood Dale Elementary District 7 teacher Margaret Dynak. Two justices abstained.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Dynak appealed to the state's highest court after losing in the circuit and appellate courts.

The court disagreed with Dynak's interpretation of a state law regulating paid sick leave for most teachers and staff.

Dynak gave birth June 6, 2016, 1½ days before the end of the 2015-16 school year. She asked the district, before the birth, for permission to use nearly six weeks of paid sick leave when school resumed in August.

The law permits teachers to use paid sick leave for personal illness, quarantine at home, serious illness or death in the immediate family or household, plus birth, adoption and placement for adoption. It allows school districts to require medical documentation for absences of more than three days, unless it is for the birth, adoption or placement of a child for adoption. Then a note isn't required until after 30 days.

In an opinion signed by three of the five justices, the court said the law's language makes it clear that use of paid sick leave is tied by time to the qualifying event.

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The requirement of a doctor's note after three days "is clear evidence that the legislature did not intend for sick leave to be separated in time from the actual illness," the opinion states. And the legislature wasn't trying to create a right for employees to take paid sick leave on any day the employee chooses, the opinion said. Doing so could create "absurd" results, such as an employee whose relative dies in midsummer taking paid leave when school resumes.

Dynak argued she was deprived of her earned sick leave unjustly and her accrued sick leave had been reduced. The court said she was wrong.

"Plaintiff's underlying premise is faulty. If a teacher gives birth during the school year, she must use her accumulated sick leave to take paid time off for the birth. If a teacher gives birth just prior to or during a summer break, however, the teacher has no need to use her accumulated sick days because she is not required to be at work during that time," it states.

It notes she didn't lose any paid sick leave; it remained available to her for future use, or to cash out at retirement.

Dynak filed a similar suit after giving birth to another child in June 2018. She took six weeks of unpaid leave for both children, under the provisions of the federal Family Medical Leave Act.

"It's definitely upsetting, but I know the fight is not over. The IEA is going to keep fighting for me and all other parents in education," Dynak said, in a news release from the Illinois Education Association.

Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin said the association will take the issue up with the General Assembly, "so that we can put a stop to efforts by districts to take away the rights of our educators and their families."

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