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Wells v. Health & Hospitals Gov. Com.

OPINION FILED AUGUST 17, 1977.

AUGUSTA WELLS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

HEALTH AND HOSPITALS GOVERNING COMMISSION OF COOK COUNTY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



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

MR. JUSTICE JIGANTI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This is an appeal from an order of the circuit court of Cook County denying the plaintiff's petition for the issuance of a common law writ of certiorari to review and reverse the action of the Health and Hospitals Governing Commission of Cook County ("the Commission") discharging the plaintiff from his position as a lieutenant in the Security Department of Cook County Hospital. The plaintiff questions whether the notice requirements of the Commission's rules and regulations regarding employee disciplinary procedures were met; whether the charges upon which plaintiff's dismissal was based were within the causes for discharge as set out in the aforesaid rules and regulations; and whether such charges were supported by the evidence.

Plaintiff Augusta Wells was first employed as a security officer at Cook County Hospital on March 18, 1968. He was subsequently promoted to the position of lieutenant in 1972, and acted in a supervisory capacity in his role as a security officer.

On September 22, 1973, Melvin R. May, director of security for the Commission, suspended Wells from his duties as Security Supervisor. The oral suspension was confirmed by May's letter of September 24, 1973, in which Wells was informed that September 26, 1973, at 10 a.m., had been set for a hearing regarding Wells' "alleged misappropriation of funds from parking lot #5."

At that hearing, Wells was represented by an attorney before Victor Jackson of Cook County Hospital's Labor Relations Division. As a result of this "Predisciplinary Hearing," Jackson, on September 28, 1973, notified Wells that written charges had been filed against him, resulting in his termination. Specifically, the charges were "misuse of Hospital's funds and failure to follow instructions." Notice of the time and date of a disciplinary hearing came later in a letter dated October 16, 1973. The hearing had been set for October 18 at 2 p.m., but at that time was continued to October 30, 1973. The plaintiff was advised of the new hearing date by a letter dated October 23, 1973.

On October 30, 1973, the disciplinary hearing was conducted before hearing examiner James Brawley, a duly authorized merit system hearing officer. The charges of misuse of hospital funds and failure to follow instructions were reiterated, with specific reference made to the hospital's "Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual" which provides in part that no employee shall:

"Steal or remove or be in unauthorized possession of hospital or another person's personal property.

Fail to follow instructions, or to work in accordance with hospital policies and procedures."

The plaintiff's attorney stated that he did not think the charges were specific or definite enough. However, he made no procedural objection, stating that "if [the charges] are limited to matters that were previously discussed with me or in my presence prior to this date by the Hospital Personnel Authorities, then I register no objection to the same."

The testimony and evidence presented at the hearing related to an alleged misappropriation of money from one of the hospital's paid parking lots. Benjamin Isom, assistant director of security at Cook County Hospital, testified that the usual procedure for entry into hospital parking lots was to insert the correct amount of change into a sealed collection box, thereby raising the gate. Periodically, someone from the hospital's accounting office would collect the money from the boxes. When the collection boxes were not functioning properly, the Pinkerton guard on duty would collect the money and operate the gate by use of a key card.

Isom testified that on August 10, 1973, a Commission security officer gave him an envelope containing $6.50, which had been received from a Pinkerton guard assigned to parking lot #5. Isom initiated a full scale investigation to determine to what extent other security personnel had been collecting money from parking lot collection boxes or from the guards on duty. During the course of this investigation, Isom spoke with Samuel Matthews, a Pinkerton guard assigned to parking lot #5, who told Isom he had given money he had collected from the coin boxes to Wells two or three times a week for eight months to a year. The amounts varied from $6 to $30.

Isom spoke with Wells on August 15, 1973, regarding the parking lot monies. Wells stated he had received money from Matthews only twice, and had given that money to the hospital's accounting office. The only receipt Wells produced from the accounting office was dated August 15, 1973, in the amount of $24.75. Wells admitted that he had been given this money by Matthews on July 30 and August 3, 1973. Wells had apparently been informally questioned regarding parking lot collections the day before he was questioned by Isom. Hospital accounting office records indicated that in the 16-month period between April 15, 1972, and August 14, 1973, Wells had not turned in any money collected from the parking lot.

Two written statements by Wells were made part of the hearing record. In one, Wells stated he had received $12 from Matthews in April or May 1973, had turned the money over to the hospital's security office and was given a receipt by a Miss Brown, to the best of his recollection. He also referred to the $24.75 he had received on July 30 and August 3, 1973, and turned in on August 15. In the other statement, Wells admitted that there was a possibility that he had mishandled $50 of the Commission's money and that he would be willing to pay it back.

Matthews, the Pinkerton guard assigned to parking lot #5, testified that whenever the collection box was broken, he had turned the money he collected over to Wells. The accounting office's Thelma Brown testified that she had not received any money from Wells in April or May, 1973. John Travis, another security officer, testified that during the investigation he had interviewed both Matthews and Wells; that Matthews had told him that he had been giving Wells money from parking lot #5 for "a long ...


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