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Sunday, January 19, 2020

Judge finds DuPage County not on the hook for lawsuit brought by home health worker fired when state funding ran out

Federal Court

By D.M. Herra | Jan 4, 2020

DuPage County Governmental Complex, Wheaton

A federal judge put an end to a home health worker’s claim that she was wrongfully fired when the state-funded program for which she worked in DuPage County was terminated.

Nancy Compton sued the DuPage County Health Department for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, as well as breach of contract. U.S. District Judge Manish Shah granted summary judgment to the county on the FLSA and IMWL claims and dismissed the breach-of-contract claim without prejudice.

The DuPage County Health Department helped administer a state-funded program to provide home-based support services for adults with mental illness, according to the court's memorandum of opinion. The case manager overseeing the program in the county learned from a mutual acquaintance that Compton was looking for work and told her the state was hiring workers for the program. He then helped her to apply online.

Over the two years Compton worked in the program, she reported to the county only to report her monthly hours worked, which the county then submitted to the state for payment. She had complete discretion over how many hours she worked and when her shifts took place, and she determined the services she would provide to her assigned client, with input from the client’s mother.

In July 2015, the state of Illinois stopped funding the program and workers stopped getting paid. When Compton reported this to the county, she was referred to the state. About a year later, DuPage County ended its participation in the program.

Compton then sued the county, arguing that the county and state were her joint employers. In response, the county claimed she was an independent contractor – or, if an employee of anyone, an employee of the state. Both sides moved for summary judgment.

In his decision, Shah said the circumstances of Compton’s employment did not support the belief that she was a county employee.

“Whether viewed through the joint-employment or independent-contractor lens, the question is essentially the same: whether...DuPage County exerted enough control over Compton’s working environment such that the county employed her,” Shah wrote. “It did not. The county’s control over Compton’s work was minimal. Its most significant role was assigning Compton to a client. But after that initial match, Compton worked largely independently, with little oversight or guidance from the county.”

While acknowledging it was not his role to decide whether Compton was employed by the state, Shah said the comparison of the state’s role in her employment against the county’s role is “telling.”

“Compton applied for the job through a state website. The state kept all records related to her work in the program, and it was the state that conducted a background check before Compton started,” he wrote. “The goal is to ascertain the economic reality of the relationship, and the state paid Compton.”

Compton argued the county “recruited her, hired her, set her rate of pay, assigned her a client, supervised her, and had the authority to fire her,” but Shah said the evidence supported just one of those claims – that the county assigned her a client. The rest of the items listed were the purview of either the state or the client.

After granting the defendant summary judgment on the fair labor and minimum wage claims, Shah dismissed the breach-of-contract claim without prejudice because it requires application of state law.

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State of IllinoisU.S. District Court for the Northern District of IllinoisThe County of Dupage

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