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Metropolitan Sanitary Dist. v. Huston

JANUARY 4, 1973.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. EDWARD F. HEALY, Judge, presiding.


In March 1966 the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago held a civil service examination for operating engineers. The examination was conducted by the personnel department under the direct supervision of Ronald Huston, the assistant director. He was given the responsibility of preparing, administering and scoring the examination for the more than 200 applicants.

An investigation which followed the examination revealed certain irregularities and culminated in Huston's suspension from his position in May 1966. In June of that year the director of personnel and the district's general superintendent filed charges against Huston with the district's Civil Service Board. The specifications which accompanied the charges accused him of willful and fraudulent conduct which brought the district's civil service into disrepute by failing to conduct an impartial examination, giving preferential treatment to some contestants, misgrading and not safeguarding the test papers, changing answers, removing answer sheets and substituting others in their place.

In April 1969, four months prior to trial, an amended statement of charges was filed. The amendment repeated the statutes and the rules of the district under which the charges were originally brought: that an employee could be discharged if he failed to obey a proper order given by any superior; if his conduct in the course of an examination tended to bring the district's civil service into disrepute, and if he was guilty of conduct which tended to render his continued employment detrimental to the discipline, efficiency or reputation of the district's service. The specifications of wrongdoing, however, were limited to the broad accusation that Huston violated the rules by not properly administering, grading and scoring the examination.

The trial was held before the district's Civil Service Board which rendered a unanimous decision finding that the evidence did not sustain the charges. The charges were dismissed and the board ordered that Huston be restored to his civil service status. The district filed a complaint for administrative review. Huston moved to dismiss the complaint. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss but sustained the decision of the Civil Service Board. The district appealed. In this court it contends that the decision of the board and the judgment of the trial court were contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.

The principal witnesses at the hearing were Huston (called as an adverse witness by the district) and Linton Godown, an examiner of questioned documents. The relevant facts elicited from the two witnesses are these:

Huston, a graduate of DePaul University with a bachelor's degree and a graduate of the University of Chicago with a master's degree in business administration, started to work for the Sanitary District in 1955 as a personnel technician. In 1962, when his position was that of examining technician, he was assigned the task of conducting an examination for operating engineers. The examination papers were kept in his office until 1964 when they were removed from his files and destroyed. Sometime between 1962 and 1965 the district engaged a personnel consultant named McCann. Huston and the director of personnel, Chester Kopec, worked with McCann in devising new rules to improve the civil service structure of the district. One of the improvements recommended by Huston and which was adopted was the tightening of the security system to insure greater secrecy in the identity of the candidates taking examinations.

Two or three days before the 1966 examination, Kopec and Huston were informed by William Brogan, the business representative of the Operating Engineers Union, that copies of the 1962 examination questions and the correct answers to those questions were in circulation. The 1966 questions were immediately checked against those asked in 1962 and 18 were found to be the same. The 18 questions were eliminated from the 1966 examination and new ones were substituted. Within the first hour of the 1966 examination 15 to 20 candidates withdrew. It was assumed that they left because they found the examination difficult.

After the 1966 examination McCann was again employed, this time to investigate irregularities in the examination. Huston was instructed to cooperate with McCann. In the course of his investigation McCann asked Huston to identify the person who had brought the copy of the 1962 examination to his attention. Huston said it was a confidence and did not divulge Brogan's name.

The examination was held at DePaul University Saturday, March 12, 1966. Monitors circulated through the corridors and were assigned to each room to prevent cheating or communication between the candidates. Huston, Kopec and Helen Davin, an examination technician, were present and were the officers in control. The examination papers were locked in a file cabinet in Kopec's office over the weekend.

The following Monday, while Kopec, Huston and Davin were sorting the answer sheets in numerical order, it was discovered that one set of questions (booklet No. 155) and one answer sheet (No. 155) were missing. Huston called the monitor who was in charge of the room to which the package of material containing No. 155 had been assigned. The monitor said that he had noticed that No. 155 was missing on the day of the examination. In the presence of Kopec and Davin, Huston reprimanded him for not having brought it to the attention of one of the control officers at that time. Davin, who prepared the packages for the room monitors, was of the opinion that No. 155 had been accidentally destroyed by her in making preparations for the examination. No further inquiry or investigation was made.

At Kopec's direction, Huston proceeded to grade the answer sheets. The examination consisted of 100 questions with five possible answers to each question. The questions were in booklets and the multiple choice answers were on separate sheets of paper on which the numbers of the questions, 1 to 100, were listed. A candidate would indicate his answer by filling one of five small circles opposite the number of each question, thus:

Question No. A B C D E

44. • ? ? ? ? 45. ? ? ...

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