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Violation Of A Residency Requirement Can Result In Discharge For Public Employees

Recently, the Illinois First District Appellate Court upheld the termination of two Chicago school teachers for failing to abide by the Board of Education's residency requirement. Crowley v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, 2014 IL App (1st) 130727. In these consolidated cases, two teachers admitted they did not reside within the City of Chicago, but they argued the Board's residency requirement had become "stale" because the Board failed to vigorously enforce it and that the Board had failed to enforce the policy against other employees.

The teachers had been in violation of the residency requirement for 12 years and 8 years, respectively, when the Chicago School Board eventually audited employee files for residency compliance. The Chicago School Board issued warnings to 77 non-resident teachers, including the plaintiffs, warning that they would be discharged if they did not comply with the residency requirements within sixty (60) days. Both teachers obtained administrative hearings before the Illinois State Board of Education hearing officers for their proposed termination. While the ISBE hearing officer found there was insufficient cause to dismiss the teachers, the recommendation was rejected by the Chicago School Board. When the teachers filed a complaint for administrative review, the circuit court affirmed the Chicago School Board's order upholding the terminations and this appeal followed.

The appellate court was not persuaded by the teachers' arguments that the residency requirements had not been enforced against two other employees. Crowley, 2014 IL App (1st)130727 at ¶ 8. The other employees were not teachers. One was the Chief Administrative Officer, a high-level employee not covered by a union contract. The other employee was one of a group of social workers who the Board had issued warning letters to but later rescinded due to deficient due process.

The court was clear that "[e]mployers are not estopped from moving from lax enforcement of employee conduct rules to more strict enforcement if the change is made clear to the employees and announced in advance." Id. at ¶ 34 quoting Western Dairymen Cooperative, Inc. v. Board of Review of the Industrial Comm'n, 684 P.2d 647, 649 (Utah 1984).

Keeping with other precedents upholding residency requirements, the appellate court upheld the teachers' terminations.

Whether your public body has a residency requirement as the result of mandatory bargaining, an employment contract or personnel policies, this case is a good reminder to periodically conduct a compliance audit to determine if your employees are in violation of the residency requirements. For additional information on conducting a compliance audit or necessary due process requirements if a violation is discovered, the attorneys at Heyl Royster can provide comprehensive assistance.