EDWARDS v. ADDISON FIREFIGHTERS’ PENSION BOARD

On December 9, 2013 the Second District Appellate Court issued its Opinion in Edwards v. Board of Trustees of the Addison Fire Protection District Firefighters’ Pension Fund.  The plaintiff filed an application for a line of duty disability pension as a result of a latex allergy. The Pension Board denied the application.  The trial court affirmed the Pension Board’s decision and the plaintiff appealed.  The Appellate court affirmed the Pension Board’ decision.

The Fire Protection District sought to terminate the plaintiff’s employment as a firefighter because she had developed a latex allergy.  The plaintiff subsequently applied for a line of duty disability pension.  The plaintiff had never missed any work as a firefighter as a result of her sensitivity to latex until the District placed the plaintiff on administrative leave. A number of Pension Board doctors and a number of District doctors concluded the plaintiff was disabled.  However one Pension Board doctor and one District doctor concluded the plaintiff was not disabled.  The Pension Board’s decision concluded that the plaintiff was not permanently disabled within the meaning of the Pension Code because it had not lasted for a continuous period of 12 months and it never prevented her from performing firefighting duties.

The Appellate Court held that the record contained evidence to support the Pension Board’s decision. Notably, the record contained no evidence to demonstrate that the plaintiff had missed any work due to her alleged allergy.  Furthermore, the plaintiff’s complaint before the Department of Human Rights alleged that her disability was unrelated to her ability to perform the essential functions of her job.

The Appellate Court took serious issue with the plaintiff’s arguments writing “falsely attributing testimony and exaggerating other testimony is not proper argument and merits no consideration.”  The Appellate Court also held that the plaintiff’s argument that the Pension Board was required to give more weight to the District’s interpretation of its doctors’ reports was a non sequitur.  The Appellate Court also commented on the plaintiff’s counsel’s sleight of hand and called the actions sanctionable.

Most importantly in this case, the Appellate Court affirmed its previous holding in Dowrick v. Village of Downers Grove that it is not inconsistent for a municipality to find a person unfit for duty and for the pension board to also find the person not disabled.  “The legislature set a lower bar for a municipality seeking to discharge an unfit firefighter than for a firefighter to obtain a disability pension, and committed the decisions to separate agencies with separate missions.”

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