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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Latex Allergy Not a Disability for Pension Benefits

As municipalities grapple with PSEBA, PEBA, and a myriad of other acronyms granting their employees expensive pension benefits, a recent decision by the Illinois Department of Human Rights, upheld by the Second District Appellate Court, should provide them with at least some comfort.

In Edwards v. The Addison Fire Protection District, et al., the plaintiff filed for pension benefits before the Board of Trustees for the Addison Fire Protection District (the Board), claiming that she was entitled to a line-of-duty disability pension due to a latex allergy she claimed to have acquired through her employment. The plaintiff, a firefighter/paramedic with the Addison Fire Protection District (District), had been diagnosed with a latex allergy in 1999. As a result of this allergy, the District gave her non-latex gloves, but continued to allow the rest of its employees to use latex gloves. For a number of years, the plaintiff was able to continue working with few problems, but in July 2008, she sent a memorandum to her captain in which she reported "increasing severity" of her allergic reactions to latex gloves worn by other District employees. The employee continued working until September 11, 2008, when the District informed her that she could not continue to work until the latex situation had been resolved.

In December 2008, the plaintiff was terminated from her position, as an independent medical evaluation determined that she could not continue to work as a firefighter/paramedic due to her allergy. In January 2009, she filed an application with the Board claiming a line-of-duty disability. She claimed that her disability was the result of "repeated exposure to latex through the latex gloves that were being used by the [District’s] ambulances/engines." A number of doctors confirmed that she had a serious latex allergy, which had grown worse over time.

The Board, however, determined that despite this allergy, she was not "permanently disabled within the meaning of the Pension Code." The Board noted that although she had a sensitivity to latex exposure, this "sensitivity is not severe enough to constitute a disabling sickness" under the Code. The Board noted that in order to qualify for a line-of-duty disability pension, the employee needed to prove that she would suffer disabling symptoms for a continuous period of at least twelve months, which the Board determined had not occurred. This decision was affirmed by the both the trial court and the Second District Appellate court, finding the Board’s decision not to be against the manifest weight of the evidence.

This decision is good news for municipalities, especially those that face enormous pension challenges. As municipalities deal with enough liability from employees who sustain legitimate disabilities in the line of work, it is encouraging that a latex allergy will not be considered one of them.
Post Authored by Matt DiCianni, Ancel Glink


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