School districts can stop teachers from deferring maternity leave, Illinois Supreme Court rules

(The Center Square) – The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that teachers can’t defer maternity leave until after summer break for births that occur at the end of the school year.

The decision upheld rulings from the lower courts that held in favor of the Wood Dale School District.

The lawsuit after the district denied paid leave for teacher Margaret Dynak, who gave birth to her daughter in June 2016, one day before summer break. When school resumed that fall, she planned to use her paid time off. The school district refused, saying maternity leave cannot be taken months after the child was born.

In the opinion, Justice Anne Burke said the state statute was intended to give teachers paid sick leave in the time right after the triggering event, whether that even was falling ill or giving birth.

“We find the most reasonable and consistent reading of the statute is that it allows an employee who experiences a qualifying event to use accumulated paid sick leave at the time of that event, not later at the employee’s discretion,” she said.

The Illinois School Code mandates 30 days of paid maternity leave. At issue was whether or not the days have to be used right after the birth of a child or if it can be taken after summer break, still the next subsequent school day, according to court documents.

Had the court sided with Dynak, it would have changed the way school districts allow teachers to take sick leave.

“In determining legislative intent, we may consider the consequences that would result from construing the statute one way or another, and in doing so, we presume that the legislature did not intend absurdity, inconvenience, or injustice,” Burke wrote.

Dynak said she felt the time she spent with her daughter was “irreplaceable.”

“I don’t want anyone to go through what I had to go through,” she said in a statement. “It’s an impossible decision to make. After the district denied my request, I chose to take unpaid leave to spend time with my new daughter, even though it was an extremely difficult time to go without a paycheck. I felt very strongly that I needed to spend that time with my daughter. It’s irreplaceable.”

The Illinois Education Association, which represented Dynak in the case, said it will next work to change the state law.

“We are disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision, and wish that the Court gave more serious consideration to Margaret’s position,” IEA President Kathi Griffin said. “That said, this isn’t the last stop for our members and their families. This fight is far from over. We plan to bring this important issue to the legislature, so that we can put a stop to efforts by districts to take away the rights of our educators and their families. IEA will advocate for language that confirms what we believe was always in the school code: an affirmative right to take paid leave for the birth of a child regardless of when the child is born.”

The Illinois Association of School Boards supported the district.

“They have said that is not what our state statute – our school code says – so we’re happy with the result,” IASB Deputy Executive Director Ben Schwarm said.

Schwarm said teachers seeking to be able to defer maternity leave should bargain for it at the negotiating table rather than seek to change state law to require it.

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