Search form

‘Shoplifting and No Apprehension’ Policy Vulnerable to Whistleblower Claims, Illinois Court Finds

By Paul Patten
  • December 8, 2015

A retail employer is liable under the Illinois Whistleblower Act (“IWA”) when it terminates an employee for violating its “shoplifting and no apprehension” policy prohibiting employees from calling law enforcement directly about suspected shoplifting, an Illinois federal court has found. Coffey v. DSW Shoe Warehouse, Inc. a/k/a DSW, Inc., No. 14 C 4365 (Oct. 29, 2015).

Under the IWA, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who report unlawful activity — committed by anyone — which they have reasonable cause to believe is occurring or has taken place, to a government or law enforcement agency.

Coffey provides incentive for retailers and other employers to revisit handbook and policies on reporting illegal conduct.

Background

The plaintiff, Melissa Coffey, worked as an assistant store manager for DSW Shoe Warehouse. During her employment, one of Coffey’s subordinates informed her that a group of women, who the subordinate suspected of shoplifting in the past, had returned to the store that day. Coffey responded by announcing through her walkie-talkie, which connected her to all employees in the store, “I think we’re going to call the police.” A store employee, who heard Coffey’s announcement, took it as a directive and called the police. Police arrived, did a “walk-through” of the store, but did not make an arrest.

DSW subsequently terminated Coffey for violating its shoplifting and no apprehension policy, which prohibited employees from calling law enforcement, mall security, or third parties to respond to suspected theft. The policy included the following:

Under no circumstances is law enforcement, mall security or any other third party to be called to notify or respond to a suspected shoplifting/theft incident. If special circumstances exist (such as a high dollar theft, grab and run, etc.), immediately contact your RLPM [Regional Loss Prevention Manager] for direction. The RLPM is the only individual who may authorize an exception. This authorization must be obtained prior to any call to law enforcement.

Coffey claimed her termination violated the IWA.

Decision

The court granted Coffey’s motion for summary judgment, finding the IWA applicable to retaliatory discharges based on reports of employer misconduct or third party misconduct (here, reporting suspected customer theft). Coffey’s termination, based on her violation of DSW’s policy, the court found, constituted retaliatory discharge.

Among its conclusions, the court found:

  1. under the IWA, a whistleblower may directly or through another person, inform a governmental agency of unlawful conduct;
  2. the IWA protects whistleblowers who report employer misconduct or third-party misconduct;
  3. the IWA protects whistleblowers who report what they reasonably believe to be unlawful conduct;
  4. Coffey engaged in protected activity by indirectly informing the police of suspected customer theft; and
  5. her subsequent termination for violating DSW’s policy constituted retaliatory discharge.

Employer Policies

Although the court did not expressly find DSW’s policy in violation of the IWA, the statutory language appears to prohibit such policies.

Under the IWA, employers are prohibited from making policies “preventing an employee from disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency….” 740 ILCS 174/10. However, the IWA is not clear as to whether an employer faces any monetary damages for having, but never enforcing, a policy prohibiting employees from directly reporting criminal activity to law enforcement.

The safest course may be to eliminate such “chain of command” criminal reporting requirements, thereby minimizing the likelihood that an unwary supervisor would discipline an employee for directly reporting criminal activity to law enforcement.

Please contact the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work if you have any questions about this case, its implications, or any other workplace issues.

©2015 Jackson Lewis P.C. This Update is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice nor does it create an attorney/client relationship between Jackson Lewis and any readers or recipients. Readers should consult counsel of their own choosing to discuss how these matters relate to their individual circumstances. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited without the express written consent of Jackson Lewis.

This Update may be considered attorney advertising in some states. Furthermore, prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Jackson Lewis P.C. represents management exclusively in workplace law and related litigation. Our attorneys are available to assist employers in their compliance efforts and to represent employers in matters before state and federal courts and administrative agencies. For more information, please contact the attorney(s) listed or the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work.

See AllRelated Articles You May Like

September 14, 2018

New Version of Model FCRA Summary of Rights Released; And You Have One Week to Comply

September 14, 2018

A new model “A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act” disclosure form document was released on September 12, 2018, by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Employers and background check companies should begin using the new form by September 21, 2018. The federal agency responsible for oversight and... Read More

September 12, 2018

Maryland Employers, Are You Ready? New Sexual Harassment Law Takes Effect October 1

September 12, 2018

Maryland’s “Disclosing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Act of 2018” takes effect on October 1, 2018. The Act prohibits certain waivers related to an employee’s future sexual harassment claims and future retaliation claims for making a sexual harassment claim. It also requires employers with at least 50 employees to complete a survey... Read More

September 5, 2018

Reminder: New York City Employers Must Distribute Fact Sheet, Post Notice on Sexual Harassment Law by Sept. 6

September 5, 2018

Beginning September 6, 2018, all New York City employers must distribute the New York City Commission on Human Rights’ mandatory fact sheet on the “Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act” to all new hires. Employers also may wish to distribute the fact sheet to existing employees, even though that is not expressly required by the law or by... Read More

Related Practices