Court rules in favor of Madigan: Attorney general doesn’t have to defend state against wrongful workers’ compensation claims
A Sangamon County judge’s ruling defending Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s failure to defend the state against wrongful workers’ compensation claims could cost the state.
A Sangamon County circuit court judge ruled May 13 against Gov. Bruce Rauner and in favor of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, despite the fact that Madigan has failed to perform some of the duties her role requires.
The Illinois Department of Central Management Services, or CMS, filed the case Hoffman v. Madigan after Madigan refused to adequately defend the state against inappropriate workers’ compensation claims, despite the fact that state law unequivocally supports the state against the claims.
As a state agency under the governor, CMS is statutorily tasked with representing the state’s Department of Human Services in workers’ compensation claims brought against the state. But CMS asserts that Madigan is not properly defending the state against claims made by home care workers called “personal assistants.”
At the crux of the case are two particular workers’ compensation claims filed by Stephanie Yencer-Price, a personal assistant who sustained injuries while working in a private household in Sangamon County. Because she is employed by a private household as a personal assistant under the Disabled Persons Rehabilitation Act, Yencer-Price claims she is a “state employee” and entitled to workers’ compensation from the state – rather than from her private employer – for the injuries she allegedly sustained while working for her private employer.
But both state law and court precedent make clear that personal assistants are not “state employees” and therefore are not entitled to workers’ compensation from the state.
For example, state law provides that the state “shall not be considered to be the employer” of a personal assistant for any purposes not specifically enumerated – and significantly, workers’ compensation is not listed. To the contrary, the law explicitly states that a personal assistant will be considered an employee of the state “solely” for purposes of coverage under the state’s collective bargaining statute.
On the other hand, state law provides that “the customer” of the personal assistant – i.e., the private household – “is responsible for controlling all aspects of the employment relationship” between the private household and the personal assistant. In fact, state law requires a contract between every “customer” and personal assistant. In that contract, the personal assistant must acknowledge that the Department of Human Services maintains that the customer, and not the state, is the “employer” for purposes of workers’ compensation claims.
Simply put, state law makes clear it is Yencer-Price’s private employer, and not the state, who is responsible for any injuries she sustained while working for that private employer.
That conclusion is supported by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn. In that case, the court held that personal assistants are considered state employees for one purpose only: collective bargaining over wages. Personal assistants are private employees for all other purposes.
In addition, at least two state court decisions have held that there is no employer/employee relationship between the state and personal assistants.
But in claims brought by personal assistants such as Yencer-Price, Madigan has refused to present this overwhelming legal evidence demonstrating there is no employer/employee relationship between the state of Illinois and personal assistants.
Based on Madigan’s failure to assert a “meritorious defense” against such claims, CMS filed the present case asking the court to enjoin Madigan from representing the state in workers’ compensation claims involving personal assistants. CMS also asked the court to allow for the appointment of a special assistant attorney general in such situations.
On May 13 the court ignored the overwhelming evidence supporting CMS, and instead dismissed the case altogether. CMS is sure to appeal this decision.
The impact of this case is substantial. Hundreds of workers’ compensation claims have been filed on behalf of personal assistants in the state. When the state is not adequately defended from such claims, millions of taxpayer dollars improperly flow from the state to individuals who are not employees of the state. The state simply cannot afford to lose that money.
With the law clearly stacked against Madigan, and in light of the state’s precarious financial situation, the question remains as to why she failed to adequately defend the state against inappropriate workers’ compensation claims in the first place. The answer: politics. Reportedly, before Rauner was in office, it was the attorney general’s position that her office would dispute all such claims because personal assistants are not employees of the state.
But in Illinois, the Madigan family agenda is more important than the law or protecting the state’s taxpayers.