TLSS Partner Kate Dempster Obtains Dismissal of Whistleblower Claim Against Hospital

TLSS Partner Kate Dempster successfully defended a claim brought against a hospital under the Illinois Whistleblower Act (IWA), resulting in dismissal of the complaint by Ninth District Judge Richard Gambrell. The claimant was hired as a physician’s assistant at the defendant hospital in June, 2013. In conjunction with her employment, the claimant received a signing incentive of $2,500, which she was permitted to keep if she remained employed with the hospital for one year. The claimant also received a $65,000 loan from the hospital to repay her educational debt. Pursuant to the terms of the loan agreement, the loan was to be repaid in installments that were deferred while the claimant was employed by the hospital. Also while working for the hospital, the claimant received loan forgiveness of $4.46 per hour worked.

The claimant quit in September, 2013, after only three months of employment. In violation of the loan agreement, she failed to repay the bonus or the loan, and did not arrange a payment plan for her debt. After months of trying to enforce its contracts with the claimant, the hospital assigned the debt to a third party collections agency in February, 2015. The collections agency then filed suit against the claimant in March, 2015. In September, 2017, the claimant filed a third party complaint against the hospital within the collections action. In her third party complaint, the claimant asserted a single cause of action under the IWA. She claimed that the hospital retaliated against her for refusing to work without a legally adequate, written “supervision agreement,” in violation of the Physician’s Assistant Practice Act of 1987 (an allegation the hospital denied). The claimant specifically alleged that the hospital engaged in two acts of retaliation: the assignment of the loan to the collections agency; and the agency’s initiation and maintenance of the collections lawsuit.

Ms. Dempster filed a motion to dismiss the third party complaint as untimely, arguing that the IWA claim against the hospital was barred by a one-year statute of limitations. The motion was granted after oral argument. The claimant then filed an amended third party complaint, alleging that because the collections action was filed on behalf of the hospital, her third party complaint should be treated as a counterclaim, and was therefore subject to the savings provision of Section 13-107 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. Ms. Dempster again moved to dismiss, arguing that even if the action was not time-barred, the claimant was not entitled to the protection of the IWA for alleged retaliation that occurred well over a year after she ceased being an employee of the hospital. Ms. Dempster also argued that the claimant failed to allege facts to indicate that the assignment of the loan, or the filing or maintenance of the collections action constitute unlawful retaliatory conduct under the IWA. After extensive oral argument, Judge Gambrell granted Ms. Dempster’s motion, dismissing all claims against the hospital.