The Fifth District Appellate Court last week found in favor of a school district accused of paying an inadequate salary to one of its teachers.

Justices reversed the decision of St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd A. Cueto, in a ruling published Feb. 10.

Dupo Community Unit School District No. 196 teacher Gayle Van Sant had been making an extra six percent of her salary from April 2009 through January as a retirement incentive after she submitted a request to resign in the 2012-2013 school year.

However, on Jan. 9, Van Sant learned she should not have qualified for the incentive based on a Collective Bargaining Agreement between the school district and the Dupo Federation of Teachers. Two days later, the school district announced its decision to revoke Van Sant's additional pay. It also requested she pay back the additional money she had been paid since April 2009.

Van Sant contended she would not have agreed to retire early had the incentive not been in place. She filed her complaint for a temporary restraining order on Feb. 2, claiming breach of contract and promissory estoppel.

In her request for a temporary restraining order, Van Sant asked the court to order the school district to continue to pay her the additional six percent she had been receiving and to allow her to keep the incentive money she has already been given.

The school district filed a response to Van Sant's restraining order, saying she failed to comply with a grievance procedure in effect under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The circuit court affirmed Van Sant's temporary restraining order, requiring Duupo Community Unit School District to "cease paying the reduced amount of Plaintiff's pay, and pay the amounts it was paying thirty days ago."

The school district appealed, arguing that the circuit court abused its discretion because Van Sant did not abide by a grievance process in place under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The appellate court agreed.

"She (Van Sant) attempts to place her claim for restoration of her incentive retirement benefits outside of the scope of the CBA by characterizing the School District's previous payments to her as an outside agreement," wrote Justice Stephen L. Spomer.

"We are not persuaded. The terms and conditions of incentive retirement payments are within the scope of the CBA, and the CBA exclusively governs those payments."

In addition, Van Sant did not have to request injunctive relief; instead, she could have filed for monetary damages, the Court opined.

"The injury which the plaintiff complains of, which is the breach of a contract or promise to pay money to her, is capable of being measured and corrected by an award of money damages alone," Spomer wrote.

Fifth District Appellate Court of Illinois case number: 5-12-52.

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