WOOD DALE – Staci Rafferty vs. Board of Education Wood Dale School District 7 will be heard in DuPage County Circuit Court on Fri., March 13. Rafferty is a special education teacher at Wood Dale Junior High School and an Illinois Education Association (IEA) member.
In March 2019, the Wood Dale Board of Education denied Rafferty’s request to use her paid sick leave for birth. Rafferty’s biological son, Henry, was born via surrogate in April of 2019.
“We have worked with many supportive professionals throughout our journey to become parents. Nobody, apart from the administration and the Board of Education, ever made me feel like I was going to be any less of a mom because I was not physically giving birth to my child,” Rafferty said.
Prior to Henry’s birth, Rafferty and her husband spent years trying to conceive a baby. During her most recent pregnancy loss, Rafferty encountered a life-threatening cardiac emergency and was advised by her doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital that it was not safe for her to become pregnant again. That’s when Rafferty and her husband decided to pursue surrogacy with the support of Rafferty’s sister, who volunteered to be their gestational surrogate.
“All I’m asking for is to be treated the same as any other new mom in the district. Even though I did not physically give birth to Henry, he still required the same love and care as every other newborn baby,” Rafferty said. “Not only are we fighting for my time with my son, but we are also fighting for all families who make their dream come true through surrogacy.”
Section 24-6 of the Illinois School Code provides that both male and female school employees may use up to 30 days of accumulated paid sick leave for “birth,” absent any medical need for such leave. Section 24-6 also provides the right for employees to use up to 30 days of paid sick leave for adoption or placement for adoption.
“Section 24-6 provides school employees with a clear right to use previously earned sick leave for the birth of a child. That right is extended to both mothers and fathers, and the statue does not restrict that right – in any way – based on the particular circumstances of how a child was conceived or born,” IEA Associate General Counsel Ryan Thoma said. “Staci has accumulated paid sick leave over the course of her employment with the district, saving up those days of paid leave over a number of years. Section 24-6 provides her with the right to use those days to care for her son following his birth. There is simply no reasonable basis for the district to assert otherwise,” Thoma said.
The Circuit Court’s decision in Rafferty’s case will impact educators across the state. The Illinois School Code applies to tens of thousands of public education employees, both men and women, all across the state.
“The district had the opportunity to set a positive precedent in response to a situation they may have never encountered before and, instead, they denied me the use of my accumulated time when my son depended on me the most,” Rafferty said.
“The district is effectively arguing in this case that paid sick leave is available to all school employees covered by Section 24-6 who have a child, whether that be through birth or adoption, with the only exception being employees who have a child via gestational surrogacy. We do not believe that is what the legislature intended in drafting the statute and the district is unfairly interpreting the law to the detriment of the Rafferty family,” Thoma said. “No mother or father should ever be forced to make the painstaking decision of whether to take unpaid leave or to give up spending time with their newborn, particularly where an employee is forced to make that choice merely because of how his or her child was conceived or born.”
The Rafferty case is scheduled to be heard at the DuPage County Courthouse (505 N. County Farm Rd., Wheaton, IL) before Judge Bonnie Wheaton in courtroom 2007 at 9:30 a.m. on March 13.
The 135,000 member Illinois Education Association (IEA-NEA) is the state’s largest education employee’s organization. IEA represents preK-12 teachers outside of the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.