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United Air Lines v. Fair Emp. Practices Com.

OPINION FILED MARCH 7, 1979.

UNITED AIR LINES, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

ILLINOIS FAIR EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES COMMISSION ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. RICHARD L. CURRY, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE MCNAMARA DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, United Air Lines, Inc., filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County for review of a final order entered by the Illinois Fair Employment Practices Commission finding that United had committed unfair and discriminatory employment practices. The trial court upheld the Commission's action and United appeals.

On December 18, 1973, Paulette Julian filed a charge of unfair employment practice with the Commission alleging that United discharged her as a probationary flight cabin attendant as part of a concerted effort by United to prevent her and other black flight attendants from attaining union status. The pertinent evidence relating to Julian's discharge was adduced at a hearing before a Commission hearing examiner.

On October 14, 1973, the senior flight attendant on a United flight reported to the stewardess supervisor at O'Hare Airport that Julian had not occupied her assigned seat during landings and takeoffs and had disregarded her instructions to occupy the seat on this flight and on other occasions. The attendant also informed the supervisor that Julian had placed United property in her suitcase and had taken it from the aircraft. Julian admitted to the supervisor that she had not occupied the seat but denied taking United property. With Julian's permission, the supervisor searched her suitcase and purse and found the following United property: cartons of orange juice, a package of napkins, packets of sugar and instant coffee, and a writing portfolio. Julian then admitted that she placed the items in her luggage and that she knew removal of United property was grounds for immediate dismissal. The following day the supervisor prepared a report for the chief supervisor recommending Julian's discharge. Before doing so, she reviewed Julian's record and noted three letters of praise from passengers. The supervisor had not discharged any employee previously for taking United property. She had discharged white attendants in the past, but previously had not disciplined a black employee. The supervisor testified that the decision to discharge Julian was not racially motivated.

Julian testified that she was a probationary employee at the time of her dismissal. There was no animosity between her and the senior flight attendant. She had various items left over from the flight and had intended to use them or return them to the aircraft.

Marsha Hunter testified for Julian that she had observed a white flight attendant, Bonnie Fisher, carrying United liquor miniatures in her purse and had reported it to her supervisor two weeks later. No action was taken.

Pat Christian, Bonnie Fisher's supervisor, testified that she talked to Fisher about the liquor after receiving the complaint. Fisher denied the accusation and, since she received the report two weeks later, nothing could be done.

Herbert Jackson testified that he promulgated the appropriate sanctions in behalf of United for its employees' failure to comply with company rules. The company rule for theft was immediate discharge. That sanction had been applied to both black and white employees and he knew of no instance where it had been applied in a discriminatory manner. Jackson also knew of no United policy to eliminate black flight attendants.

After hearing the evidence, the examiner issued a recommended order dismissing Julian's complaint with prejudice. He found that race was not a reason for Julian's dismissal.

Thereafter, Julian filed a petition for a hearing de novo with the Commission. The Commission subsequently remanded the cause to an administrative law judge to take additional evidence. In its remandment order the Commission found that the evidence established a prima facie case of racial discrimination against United. It also found that the evidence established a legitimate basis for Julian's dismissal and that Julian had not demonstrated that white attendants similarly situated were treated differently by United. The matter was remanded solely for the taking of statistical evidence to ascertain whether the basis of Julian's dismissal was pretextual.

On March 17, 1976, statistical data and analysis were presented to a new administrative judge, the original hearing examiner having died. On September 27, 1976, the judge issued a recommended finding that the basis for the dismissal, according to statistics, was pretextual. The statistical data as reflected in the recommended finding covering the years 1968 through 1973, was as follows:

"1. Of the 8,268 white and black flight attendants entering employment with United the racial composition was as follows:

Number Percent

White 7817 94.5 Black 451 5.5 Other ...


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