Illinois Industrial Commission Majority Awarded Wage Differential To Flight Attendant, Even Though Claimant Refused Job Offer That Paid More Than Her Pre-Injury Job

Claimant, a flight attendant, was officially domiciled in Chicago where her flights originated. However, she actually lived in Ohio and commuted to Chicago. She would travel to Chicago from the Cleveland airport by plane three to four times a month, working three four-day trips each time. Defendant provided claimant with parking at the airports and also provided claimant with “positive space” seating on flights between Cleveland and Chicago, which meant she was assured a seat at any time. When claimant needed to be in Chicago overnight to work, she was provided a hotel room near the airport for $25 to $30 per night. She suffered a herniated disk in a work-related accident and was unable to continue in her flight attendant’s job. Defendant subsequently offered her a position in reservations paying $35,874 a year, which was more than the $35,009 she made as a flight attendant. The job was located Chicago. She testified that defendant did not provide pre-injury travel benefits for travel to the domicile for employees other than flight attendants and pilots. She refused the job because she did not want to move to Chicago. She remained in Ohio and found work as a travel agent earning $340.00 a week or $17,680 per year.

The arbitrator awarded wage loss benefits equal to two-thirds of the difference between $35,008 as a flight attendant and $17,680 as a travel gent. The arbitrator found that claimant reasonably refused defendant’s job offer because she did not reside in Chicago. Therefore, it was not reasonable to expect her to move. The arbitrator reasoned that the terms and conditions of employment provided by defendant that allowed claimant to live in Ohio and work from Chicago as a flight attendant were not offered to claimant after her injury. The arbitrator explained that the WCA did not require claimant to relocate her home where she resided during her employment with defendant to seek suitable employment. Furthermore, defendant was aware of claimant’s location and provided vocational rehabilitation, extensive job search supervision and additional training to claimant with the “obvious expectation” that claimant would seek work in her hometown area.

A majority of the Commission affirmed. The dissent argued that claimant had no reasonable basis for refusing the reservations job offered to her by defendant. The dissent emphasized that defendant was located