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Okino v. Dept. of Corrections





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


The plaintiff, Karen Okino, was employed as an Administrative Assistant II with the defendant, the Illinois Department of Corrections (the Department). She was laid off effective August 3, 1976. The layoff was appealed to the defendant Civil Service Commission (the Commission). Following a hearing before the Commission, the hearing officer recommended that the appeal be denied. The Commission concurred in the hearing officer's conclusion. Okino then filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Cook County. The circuit court reversed the decision of the Commission and ordered that Okino be reinstated. The defendants appeal from that order.

The reason given Okino for her layoff was that the Department was being reorganized. Okino contends her layoff was a "subterfuge for discharge" in violation of the Commission's Rule 12 which provides in part:

"Section 12.01 A certified employee who believes that he has been separated from State service by a personnel transaction used as a subterfuge for discharge may * * * appeal in writing to the Commission.

Section 12.02 The appeal must allege specific facts which if proven would establish a prima facie case that the employee was in effect discharged contrary to and in violation of the requirements of Section II of the Personnel Code. * * *

Section 12.03 * * * In any hearing called under the provisions of this Article to resolve a dispute of fact, the employee has the burden of establishing * * * a prima facie case proving that the employee was pretextually discharged."

The Commission's Personnel Code describes the layoff procedure in Rule 2-520. That rule provides, in part:

"An operating agency may request the layoff of an employee because of lack of funds, material change in duties or organization or lack of work or the abolition of a position for any of these reasons."

Okino was hired by the Department as an Administrative Assistant II in February of 1975 and was assigned to the administrator of the Adult Field Services Division (AFS Division), who at that time was Daniel W. Simons. The AFS Division supervises all of the programs for inmates of the corrections system following release. Most of the work in the Division involves the coordination and implementation of grants from the Illinois Law Enforcement Commission (ILEC). Okino's duties included monitoring AFS Division programs, preparing ILEC progress reports, preparing management-by-objective reports and monitoring the zerobased budget, overseeing compliance with title XX of the Social Rehabilitation Services Act, writing an AFS newsletter, coordinating and delivering speeches, acting as the affirmative action liaison for the AFS Division and assisting the administrator with policy formation and general operation of the Division.

On June 1, 1976, Joseph Longo became acting deputy administrator of AFS. At this point, there were two Administrative Assistants II in the AFS division, Okino and Fleming Williams. Sherwood Edwards had the title of Corrections Detention Consultant. On July 8, 1976, Simons resigned and Longo became the acting administrator. On July 9, 1976, Okino was informed that she was being laid off.

At the hearing before the Commission, Okino testified that she thought Simons resigned because the Department was dissatisfied with his performance. Okino said she had little contact with Longo before he was appointed to take Simons' place as administrator. She said that immediately after Simons' resignation on July 8, 1976, Longo held a meeting in his office with Williams, Kathleen Hilty (Simons' secretary), Jane Vavrock (Williams' secretary who became Longo's secretary), and herself. Longo informed them he wanted to get the backlog of paperwork cleared up and that he was giving some of Okino's duties to others so that she could spend her time filing. Hilty was to help and Williams was put in charge of the project. Okino said she asked Longo why he was putting a professional, Williams, in charge of another professional, herself, and he said he wanted to be sure that the job was done. Okino objected because she thought there were others in the office who had nothing to do at that time.

On the next day, July 9, 1976, Okino said Williams informed her that he was reassigning responsibility for the ILEC grant from her to Edwards. She asked him what authority he had to reassign her job duties, and he said he had the authority as her "supervisor" and because of his role as "Mr. Longo's new assistant." About 2:30 p.m. the same day, Okino said she talked to Longo in his office. She asked him for a clarification of her role within the agency. Longo told her that he was not the administrator, that he would assign jobs as he saw fit, and that he did not get along with her. He also said he was going to discuss her situation with the Director of the Department and that he would get back to her. About 5 p.m. that day Okino was given a memo by Longo informing her that effective August first her job had been abolished and that she was laid off. The memo said the action was taken "in accordance with a material reorganization of this office."

Okino said she had not seen any memoranda indicating that the office was to be reorganized and that from the time Longo became acting administrator he had not informed her of any plans to reorganize the office. She also said there were no plans for a future reorganization during the time that Simons was administrator.

Okino said she spoke with Ronald Townsel, the regional administrator, on July 8, 1976, and told him she was concerned about her status in the Department. She said she wanted to know if there were any positions available to which she could transfer. Townsel said he would look into it for her. A week later she met with Townsel again, and at that time he stated Longo told him that he, Longo, had to lay her off because of insubordination. She met with Townsel for a third time on July 27, 1976. At this meeting ...

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