Workers' comp arbitrators under investigation are put on paid leave

News-DemocratFebruary 16, 2011 

Two workers' compensation arbitrators whose practices are under investigation were placed Tuesday on paid leave.

"Effective immediately, Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission arbitrators John Dibble and Jennifer Teague are on administrative leave," said Alka Nayyar, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Central Management Services.

Teague and Dibble have been the subjects of recent stories in the Belleville News-Democrat, including those in which Dibble received a workers' comp settlement for carpal tunnel syndrome and Teague had one pending for cubital tunnel syndrome.

The newspaper reported that Teague tried to keep secret a public hearing in the workers' compensation claim filed by former Illinois State Trooper Matt Mitchell. In an e-mail to her court reporter, Teague said she wanted the hearing to be, "on the sly with no press."

Mitchell pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in a high-speed, head-on collision in 2007 that killed two teenage Collinsville sisters. He filed a claim for injuries he received in the accident.

Teague also sought to speed up a workers' comp hearing in exchange for help from an assistant attorney general in getting her own injury case settled, stating she was "really cash-strapped right now," according to a complaint submitted by the Office of the Executive Inspector General for the Attorney General's Office to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

Dibble was the arbitrator in many of the workers' comp claims filed by more than 230 guards at the Menard Correction Center in Chester who received settlements for repetitive trauma injuries from locking and unlocking cell doors.

Since 2008, almost $10 million has been paid out to 389 Menard employees, including the guards, for repetitive trauma and other injuries, commission documents show. Employees included Warden Dave Rednour, who received a tax-free check from the state general revenue fund for $75,678.

Dibble and Teague each earn $115,800 a year as arbitrators.

Prior to the announcement that the two had been placed on leave, the head of one of the state's largest business organizations on Tuesday called for Teague's removal from her job until investigations involving possible ethical violations are complete.

Referring to stories in the News-Democrat, Greg Baise, president of the 4,000-member Illinois Manufacturers' Association, said, "The newspaper has clearly articulated actions taken by Arbitrator Jennifer Teague that are unseemly and violate the impartiality supposedly guaranteed in the Workers' Compensation system.

"This is the only step that can be taken to ensure fair and accurate decisions are reached in these cases," he said.

Also on Tuesday, state Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, called for Teague's removal, at least temporarily.

"It's best for the system that they not be involved until they are cleared of wrongdoing," Kay said after learning the two arbitrators had been suspended.

Teague, 37, of Shiloh, who was scheduled to hear cases next week at the commission hearing room on the fifth floor of the St. Clair County Building, could not be reached for comment.

Dibble, 56, of Freeburg, declined to comment.

On Sunday, the newspaper reported that in an e-mail to a Belleville lawyer representing a client in a pending injury case assigned to another workers' compensation hearing officer, Teague provided legal guidance and confided that her bosses considered her fellow arbitrator a "fool."

The target of that comment, arbitrator Andrew Nalefski, who hears cases in Collinsville, said Monday, "Her comments are unfortunate. She always had a reputation as a fair and hard-working arbitrator. She is in my prayers."

Teague and Nalefski are both attorneys; Dibble is not.

Mitch Weisz, chairman of the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, said Tuesday he no longer could answer questions about the matter and referred all questions to Central Management Services, which helps process paperwork in workers' compensation settlements.

Since December, the News-Democrat has reported a series of stories about alleged abuses in the workers' compensation system that have led to investigations by the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and the Illinois Department of Insurance. Gov. Pat Quinn appointed a Springfield lawyer to oversee the insurance department probe.

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