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Residency Requirements for a City Job — Lessons of Thomas v. Chicago Transit Authority

Are residency requirements for jobs with cities and local agencies enforceable?  How do you prove residency? Intent to establish permanent residency is key!

The Facts of Thomas v. Chicago Transit Authority (Ill. App. 2014)

David Thomas was hired by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in 2008 as a non-union worker. At that time, CTA No. 005-201 required such employees to reside within the CTA’s service area. Thomas, who did not live in the service area, almost immediately listed his home in Arlington Heights for sale and started actively looking for a new home in several different parts of the service area, hoping to comply with the ordinance within its six-month grace period.

Six months passed, and the house did not sell. Thomas filed for an extension and provided the CTA with extensive documentation supporting his efforts to comply with the ordinance. The one-year extension was granted. When the Arlington Heights house failed to sell, Thomas provided the CTA with documentation asserting that he had established residence in the service area by leasing a house on Oleander Street.

Thomas changed the address on his driver’s license and with his bank, paid the electric bill for the Oleander house and slept there every night from Monday until Thursday. However, Thomas’s wife was disabled and confined to a motorized wheelchair and needed help with their young twins. The Oleander house was not accessible to someone in a wheelchair. So, every morning at five, Thomas woke to visit the house in Arlington Heights to help his wife make breakfast, dress the children and take them to daycare. Every evening he returned to the Arlington Heights house to help prepare dinner and put his family to bed. He would leave around 8:30 each weeknight to return to the house on Oleander to sleep there. On the weekends he stayed with his family in Arlington Heights. During this time the family home remained on the market, and the family continued looking at houses that were within the CTA’s service area.

Shortly after Thomas asserted his residence on Oleander street, the CTA began an investigation as to whether he had actually established residency there to satisfy the ordinance’s requirements. The resulting report confirmed all the asserted facts but determined that Thomas’s residency was still at the family home in Arlington Heights because the “family continues to reside outside the residency area and he only uses the Chicago residence to sleep on certain nights during the week, he is not in compliance with CTA’s residency ordinance.” The CTA terminated Thomas’s employment.

CTA Board Hearing

Thomas requested a hearing before the CTA Board under Section 28 of the Metropolitan Transit Authority Act (70 ILCS 3605/28) to review his termination. The hearing was granted. At the hearing Mr. Thomas, Mrs. Thomas and the CTA’s investigator testified. Once again, the CTA did not dispute any of the underlying facts of the case or disagree with any of the facts that the Thomases stated. Therefore, Thomas argued that the case turned on the question of his intent and that

“(1) the CTA has not met its burden of proof; (2) a determination that Thomas had two residences because he did not divorce his wife and/or abandon his family violates his fundamental rights under the due process clause; and (3) the CTA’s interpretation of the ordinance prevents Thomas from caring for his disabled wife and helping her care for their children and is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5) (2006)).”

Appeal

The Board sustained the termination, and Thomas appealed to the Cook County Circuit Court. The circuit court upheld the Board’s decision under the standard required – because it was not against the manifest weight of the evidence, nor was it clearly erroneous or contrary to the law. Thomas appealed to the First District Appellate Court, and this appellate court overturned Thomas’s termination, concluding that the Oleander house was only a temporary residence.

Illinois Appellate Court Ducks the Question: Are Residency Requirements for a City Job / Government Agency Job Legitimate?

The Appellate Court notes that “residence” and “domicile” can be used interchangeably under this CTA ordinance. To satisfy the residency requirement, a person must have a physical presence at their alleged residence and an intent to remain in that place as a permanent home. Maksym, 242 Ill. 2d at 319. The aim of the residency requirement was to strengthen “recovery of sales tax revenues, a work force more aware of the importance of public transit in communities served by CTA, a more flexible workforce who live closer to where they work, and a workforce having a greater opportunity to travel on CTA buses and trains.” Transit Authority Ordinance No. 005-201 (eff. Dec. 14, 2005).

At no point during its opinion does the Appellate Court address the legitimacy of the CTA’s residency requirement or ones like it. In fact, it references several residency requirement cases—Fagiano v. Police Board, 98 Ill. 2d 277 (1983); O’Boyle v. Personnel Board, 119 Ill. App. 3d 648 (1983); Maksym v. Board of Election Commissioners, 242 Ill. 2d 303 (2011); Dillavou v. County Officers Electoral Board, 260 Ill. App. 3d 127 (1994); Raczkowski v. City of Chicago, 142 Ill. App. 3d 378 (1986)—without once addressing whether such requirements are proper or effective at accomplishing their stated goals.

See the full opinion in Thomas v. Chicago Transit Authority (Ill. App. 2014).

How Stringent are Residency Requirements?

Although these requirements are strong in their validity, the court’s focus on intent allows for quite a bit of flexibility in determining compliance. For example, a temporary residence can suffice as a domicile and therefore establish compliance. Dillavou v. County Officers Electoral Board, 260 Ill. App. 3d 127 (1994).

In Thomas’s case, the Oleander house was a temporary residence since its owner had listed it for sale. The court found that even though a relative owned the Oleander house which was listed for sale, and even though Thomas paid no rent on it, it still satisfied the residency requirement of the CTA ordinance.

Intent is a Crucial Element of Residency

The intent must specifically be to establish a permanent residence and not just to comply with the residency requirement. In O’Boyle, the court notes that “generally changing a residence to comply with an employer’s residency requirement does not evidence the intent required to change the employee’s domicile. Rather, there must be an intent to make the new residence a permanent home to establish a new domicile.”

In that case, a firefighter required to reside in Chicago separated from his wife in the suburbs when she refused to move and moved in with his parents in Chicago. Whereas the Thomases had listed their home for sale and looked at new homes, O’Boyle’s family never listed theirs and, over time, he slowly drifted back to his home in the suburbs and was living there at the time of his termination. O’Boyle was found not to have complied with the residency requirement.

In Raczkowski, the terminated employee’s family remained in the suburbs while he moved into an apartment in the city, which he part-owned, and continued to attend to his family responsibilities. Like Thomas, he changed his address with government agencies and his financial institutions and showed no intention of moving back to his suburban family home. In that case, the court found it would be against public policy to mandate an employee “divorce his spouse and abdicate all responsibility for his family, unless otherwise ordered by a court, solely to be able to establish that he had a separate residence in the city.’”

Thomas v. CTA Illustrates How to Meet a Residency Requirement for a Job

In applying for his extension, Thomas presented the following evidence:

  • The real estate listing agreement for the Arlington Heights house
  • Correspondence from his real estate broker confirming he was searching for housing in the CTA service area

The inspector’s investigation produced the following evidence:

  • A for sale sign in front of the Arlington Heights house
  • Visits to the Oleander house to check if Thomas was there
  • Surveillance showing Thomas leaving the Arlington Heights house
  • Truck tracks at the Arlington Heights house
  • Maintenance performed by Thomas on the Arlington Heights house
  • Thomas had not filed a change of address form with the post office

At the administrative hearing, Thomas presented the following evidence:

  • A copy of the residential lease for the Oleander house
  • A bank statement with the Oleander address
  • A driver’s license with the Oleander address

These are, therefore, the kinds of evidence you might expect to provide if you need to prove that you live within a specific residency area to meet a residency requirement for a job.

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact an attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.

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