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Baehr v. Health & Hospital Governing Com.

OPINION FILED JUNE 23, 1980.

ELSA BAEHR, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

THE HEALTH AND HOSPITAL GOVERNING COMMISSION OF COOK COUNTY ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



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

MR. JUSTICE CAMPBELL DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The defendants appeal from a reversal by the circuit court of an administrative order terminating the employment of plaintiff, Elsa Baehr, as a clinical psychologist with the Health and Hospital Governing Commission (Commission). *fn1 Defendants contend on appeal that the administrative decision was supported by the manifest weight of the evidence, and consequently, the circuit court erred in concluding otherwise.

In 1974, plaintiff was employed as a clinical psychologist III in the psychiatric department at Cook County Hospital. In March 1978, plaintiff was asked by her supervisor to transfer from her position at Cook County Hospital to a similar position with the Commission. Both the hospital and the Commission were affiliated. Plaintiff's transfer to the Commission became effective on March 30, 1978. On April 4, 1978, she received a notice of layoff, effective April 25, 1978. Prior to the aforesaid transfer, plaintiff had gained seniority over other clinical psychologists III in her department at Cook County Hospital. However, because of her transfer to the Commission, plaintiff had the least seniority in that department.

After the layoff of April 25, 1978, plaintiff requested and was granted a hearing before a hearing officer appointed by defendants. Following this hearing, the aforementioned layoff was upheld and plaintiff petitioned the circuit court of Cook County, pursuant to a petition for certiorari, to review the proceedings. After a hearing on October 3, 1978, plaintiff was reinstated by the court to her position as clinical psychologist III, effective October 23, 1978. Plaintiff continued to fill that position until December 6, 1978, at which time she received a second layoff notice. After a hearing before a hearing officer and that officer's decision affirming the second layoff, plaintiff once again filed a petition for certiorari. After a hearing, the court again ordered plaintiff reinstated. It is from that second ruling that this appeal has been taken.

The second hearing before the Commission took place on January 25, 1979. Plaintiff testified that she was asked by her superiors to transfer from the department of psychiatry to the department of education with the Commission; that, prior to accepting this transfer, no one told her that the job she was going to accept was going to be abolished; that no one indicated that the position she was accepting was going to be a short-term position; and that, after being ordered back to work by the court on October 3, 1978, she was assigned no duties up until the time she received the second layoff notification.

Defendants' evidence at this hearing consisted solely of nine exhibits, which defense counsel stated were business records. A secretary from the Commission was called as a witness for defendants and testified that these records were taken from plaintiff's employment file and that they were in the same condition as when they were removed from that file. Plaintiff's counsel objected to those items being admitted into evidence on the basis that they were hearsay and secondary evidence. However, this objection was overruled by the hearing officer and they then were admitted.

Among these exhibits were three letters which are particularly relevant to this appeal. The first letter is dated October 27, 1978, and is from Richard L. Smith, who was identified as associate director for education; it is addressed to James G. Haughton, who was identified as executive director of the Commission. It states:

"This is a request for consideration of layoff of Dr. Elsa Baehr, Psychologist III, in the Basic Nursing Program of the Department of Education, HHGC. The budgetary status of the Commission has required a reduction of staff affecting the entire Department of Education.

In addition, the intent to close the Cook County School of Nursing and the resultant phaseout renders this position completely expendable. Dr. Baehr has least seniority within the Psychological Section."

The second letter is also dated October 27, 1978, and it is from James G. Haughton to Richard Smith. It states:

"Dick — as you know, we have been court-ordered to return Ms. Baehr to work because the record did not provide evidence that we had abided by our procedures. This does not, however, change the fact that her services are not needed and she is, in effect, a supernumerary employee. Accordingly, immediately upon her reinstatement, initiate new layoff proceedings. Be sure to consult with both Messrs. Krei and Tuggle to assure that our procedure is followed to the letter."

The third letter is dated October 31, 1978, and it is from Richard W. Krei to James G. Haughton. It states:

"After review of the staff reduction and the intended closing of the Cook County School of Nursing, I approve the ...


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