McField v. Ford Motor Company et al
OPINION AND ORDER. For the reasons stated in the accompanying Opinion and Order, the Court grants Ford's motion 10 and dismisses McField's retaliatory discharge claim (Count I) without prejudice. The Court grants McField until February 11, 2022 to file an amended complaint consistent with this Opinion. Signed by the Honorable Sara L. Ellis on 1/10/2022. Mailed notice(rj, )
Case: 1:21-cv-04440 Document #: 29 Filed: 01/10/22 Page 1 of 7 PageID #:86
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, a Delaware
Corporation, and ROBERT DENARDO,
No. 21 C 4440
Judge Sara L. Ellis
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Kirk McField, a former electrician for Defendant Ford Motor Company
(“Ford”), alleges that his supervisor, Defendant Robert Denardo, ordered him to falsify certain
welding reports. When McField refused to do so, Denardo allegedly fabricated a story that
McField had assaulted him. Ford subsequently suspended and fired McField. In this lawsuit,
McField contends that Ford fired him for refusing to falsify the welding reports and thereby
engaged in illegal retaliation (Count I). He also accuses Ford and Denardo of defamation leading
to the termination of his employment (Count II). Ford has moved to dismiss the retaliatory
discharge claim (Count I) for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6). 1 Because McField has not identified an Illinois policy with sufficient specificity as
required to state a retaliatory discharge claim, the Court grants Ford’s motion and dismisses that
claim without prejudice.
Neither Ford nor Denardo has challenged the legal sufficiency of McField’s defamation claim.
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Ford employed McField for more than eight years as an electrician at its Chicago, Illinois
assembly plant prior to his termination on November 10, 2020. About two weeks before his
termination, McField’s supervisor, Denardo, ordered him to falsify certain welding reports by
backdating them, which would have given the incorrect impression that Denardo had reviewed
them in a timely manner. “The welding reports are vital” for ensuring that Ford manufactures
cars “to the appropriate safety standards.” Doc. 1-1 ¶ 13. McField believes that Denardo had
previously approached other electricians and asked them to falsify the reports, but they refused to
comply. McField also refused to backdate the reports, and he told Denardo that he would inform
human resources about the falsification order.
However, before McField could make his report, Denardo falsely told human resources
that McField had head-butted him. McField believes that Denardo lied about the assault “in
order to prevent McField from reporting Denardo’s misconduct.” Id. ¶ 19. After human
resources informed McField of Denardo’s accusation, “McField immediately reported Denardo’s
instruction that he falsify the welding reports.” Id. ¶ 20. Nevertheless, Ford suspended McField
owing to Denardo’s accusation, and it subsequently terminated his employment.
A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint, not
its merits. Fed. R. Civ. P.12(b)(6); Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir.
1990). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in
the plaintiff’s complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff’s
The Court takes the facts in the background section from McField’s complaint and presumes them to be
true for the purpose of resolving Ford’s motion to dismiss. See Phillips v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 714
F.3d 1017, 1019–20 (7th Cir. 2013).
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favor. Kubiak v. City of Chicago, 810 F.3d 476, 480–81 (7th Cir. 2016). To survive a Rule
12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must assert a facially plausible claim and provide fair notice to
the defendant of the claim’s basis. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742 F.3d 720, 728–29 (7th
Cir. 2014). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Illinois is an “at-will” employment state, meaning that “a noncontracted employee is one
who serves at the employer’s will, and the employer may discharge such an employee for any
reason or no reason.” Zimmerman v. Buchheit of Sparta, Inc., 164 Ill. 2d 29, 32 (1994). A major
exception to this rule, however, is the common law tort of retaliatory discharge. Price v.
Carmack Datsun, Inc., 109 Ill. 2d 65, 67 (1985). Retaliatory discharge claims hold employers
liable for damages when they retaliate against workers in a manner that violates a public policy
of the State of Illinois. Id. at 67–68. The tort exists to help ensure that Illinois effectively
balances “the employer’s interest in operating a business efficiently and profitably, the
employee’s interest in earning a livelihood, and society’s interest in seeing its public policies
carried out.” Palmateer v. Int’l Harvester Co., 85 Ill. 2d 124, 129 (1981).
“To state a valid retaliatory discharge cause of action, an employee must allege that
(1) the employer discharged the employee, (2) in retaliation for the employee’s activities, and
(3) that the discharge violates a clear mandate of public policy.” Turner v. Mem’l Med. Ctr., 233
Ill. 2d 494, 500 (2009). McField’s allegations that Ford fired him in retaliation for refusing to
backdate Denardo’s welding reports satisfy the first and second elements, and Ford does not
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argue otherwise in its motion to dismiss. Instead, Ford argues that McField has not sufficiently
alleged that his termination contravened some Illinois policy.
The third element of the tort requires a plaintiff to allege both the existence and the
violation of a relevant Illinois policy. Lyssenko v. Int’l Titanium Powder, LLC, No. 07 C 6678,
2008 WL 4671768, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 20, 2008). Whether the policy exists is a question of
law. Turner, 233 Ill. 2d at 501–02. The Illinois Supreme Court has acknowledged that “no
precise definition” of “clearly mandated public policy” exists. Palmateer, 85 Ill. 2d at 130. In
general, however, a “public policy concerns what is right and just and what affects the citizens of
the State collectively” and “must strike at the heart of a citizen’s social rights, duties, and
responsibilities before the tort will be allowed.” Id. The source of the required policy “is to be
found in the State’s constitution and statutes and, when they are silent, in its judicial decisions.”
Id. Further, the alleged violation must implicate “a specific expression of public policy.”
Turner, 233 Ill. 2d at 503 (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks omitted). Examples of
insufficiently specific allegations of public policy include: the “right to marry” a coworker;
“product safety”; “promoting quality health care”; and “the Hippocratic Oath.” Id. (citations
omitted). As the Turner court emphasized, “[a] broad, general statement of policy is inadequate
. . . . An employer should not be exposed to liability where a public policy standard is too
general to provide any specific guidance or is so vague that it is subject to different
interpretations.” Id. at 502–03 (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).
In his complaint, McField asserts that his discharge “violated a clear mandate of public
policy in that the welding reports ensure” adherence to automobile manufacturing standards.
Doc. 1-1 ¶ 26. Falsifying welding reports could “potentially allow for automobiles not
manufactured properly to be sold,” which in turn could “adversely affect the health and safety
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of drivers of those automobiles and others on the road.” Id. Ford argues that this statement
cannot support McField’s claim because it amounts to a “mere invocation of ‘safety’ and
‘health’” like those that courts have previously rejected. Doc. 11 at 4; accord Turner, 233 Ill. 2d
at 508 (“the general concept of ‘patient safety,’ by itself,” cannot constitute a “clearly mandated
public policy”); Shaffer v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., No. 11 C 970, 2011 WL 4916493, at *3–
4, *4 n.* (N.D. Ill. Oct. 17, 2011) (grounding a retaliatory discharge claim in promotion of health
and safety in the preamble to the Illinois Constitution “does not survive Turner”); U.S. ex rel.
Chandler v. Hektoen Inst. for Med. Rsch., 35 F. Supp. 2d 1078, 1082 (N.D. Ill. 1999) (“Efforts to
promote health and safety, standing alone, are not enough to make out a claim for retaliatory
Although a plaintiff claiming retaliatory discharge need not cite a specific statute,
Stebbings v. Univ. of Chicago, 312 Ill. App. 3d 360, 366 (2000), Ford contends that McField’s
complaint does not identify any source of law (statutory, constitutional, judicial, or otherwise)
creating the required public policy. In response, McField cites the National Traffic and Motor
Vehicle Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. § 30101; several Illinois statutes concerning road safety;
provisions in the preamble to the Illinois Constitution affirming the State’s commitment to its
citizens’ safety; and certain quotations from Illinois caselaw making similar assertions. Doc. 25
at 5–7. However, McField’s cited constitutional provisions and caselaw quotations do not
suggest the existence of a specific public policy beyond the threshold established in Turner.
Schaffer, 2011 WL 4916493, at *4 n.*. And, as Ford correctly points out, McField’s cited
statutes all concern prohibitions on actions by a driver—e.g., speeding, 625 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/11601, or drunk driving, 625 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/11-501. Ford argues that these statutes “are, on
their face, not even remotely related to welding procedures inside an automobile assembly plant,
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or to the assembly of cars in general.” Doc. 26 at 4. The Court agrees; these statutes do not
implicate the existence of a public policy related to the proper manufacturing of cars and so do
not provide the required public policy for McField’s retaliatory discharge claim. See Shaffer,
2011 WL 4916493, at *4 (public policy inquiry “focuses attention on the conduct that prompted
the employee’s whistleblowing, and asks whether a specific statute, regulation, or judicial
decision prohibits that conduct”).
That said, an allegation of a practice of falsifying welding reports related to the safety of
automobiles could amount to a matter that “strike[s] at the heart of a citizen’s social rights,
duties, and responsibilities.” Palmateer, 85 Ill. 2d at 130. The Court finds implausible the
proposition that Illinois has no policy requiring that vehicles be mechanically safe. Indeed,
certain statutes seem to indicate that such a policy exists. See, e.g., 625 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/12-101
(“It is unlawful for any person to drive . . . any vehicle or combination of vehicles which is in
such unsafe condition as to endanger any person or property[.]”). Other sources of law may
indicate even more clearly that manufacturing cars unsafely violates Illinois public policy. But
because McField has not sufficiently identified a clearly mandated public policy that Ford
violated, the Court grants Ford’s motion to dismiss the claim. McField may file an amended
complaint if he can identify with greater specificity the existence and source of the public policy
that Ford has allegedly violated. 3
Because the Court finds that McField has not identified a public policy with sufficient specificity, it does
not reach the question of whether McField has sufficiently alleged a violation of that policy.
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For the foregoing reasons, the Court grants Ford’s motion  and dismisses McField’s
retaliatory discharge claim (Count I) without prejudice. The Court grants McField until February
11, 2022 to file an amended complaint consistent with this Opinion.
Dated: January 10, 2022
SARA L. ELLIS
United States District Judge
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