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Simpson v. Illinois Civil Service Com.

OPINION FILED JULY 10, 1980.

RITA SIMPSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

ILLINOIS CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR L. DUNNE, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE JIGANTI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied August 20, 1980.

The plaintiff, Rita Simpson, appeals from a judgment of the circuit court of Cook County which affirmed a finding made by the defendant, Civil Service Commission (the Commission) that cause existed for her discharge. On appeal the plaintiff argues there was no cause for discharge because she was physically incapable of resuming work at the end of her leave of absence and that the defendant, Edgar F. Callahan, Director of Financial Institutions of the State of Illinois, acted arbitrarily and unreasonably and abused his discretion in refusing her request for an additional six-month leave of absence.

Testimony at the Commission hearing established that the plaintiff had been employed in the Department of Financial Institutions (the Department) for 24 years. During the four years prior to her discharge she was an Accountant III. In April of 1977 she was assigned to the Currency Exchange Division (the Division). Her duties in that division involved visiting and auditing currency exchanges throughout the State of Illinois.

In June or July of 1978 the plaintiff became ill. From July 3, 1978, until July 17, 1978, she was absent from work. On July 13, 1978, during a telephone conversation with her immediate supervisor, Michael Fryzel, the plaintiff was informed that as of July 17, 1978, all her vacation, sick and personal days would be used up and that beginning July 18 she would be docked for days she did not report to work. The plaintiff asked Fryzel for a leave of absence and he told her to make the request in writing to Director Callahan. The plaintiff wrote such a letter, requesting a six-month leave, and enclosed a report from her physician, Dr. Novotny. The report stated that the plaintiff "is being treated at this office for multiple medical reasons. [She] may not return to her job until further notice due to medical reasons."

On July 24, 1978, Callahan sent a letter to the plaintiff denying her request. It did not mention her medical condition. The letter stated, in part, "Your level of performance has not reached a satisfactory level since I became Director * * * and I feel the interruption of your training would not be in the best interest of this Department." A performance evaluation dated July of 1978 indicated that the plaintiff's work was below the minimum acceptable level.

In response to the letter from Callahan the plaintiff filed a grievance. By letter dated August 7, 1978, Callahan advised her that the Department of Personnel had recommended that she be granted a leave of absence for one month beginning July 18, 1978, for medical reasons. The letter also stated that the leave would expire on August 18, 1978.

During the one-month leave, the plaintiff applied to the Retirement Board (the Board) for a disability pension. She furnished two medical statements to the Board. Dr. Novotny's report estimated the date when the plaintiff would be able to return to work as "never" and Dr. Cavaungh estimated it to be "indefinite."

The plaintiff did not return to work upon the expiration of her leave on August 18, 1978. In a letter dated August 22, 1978, Callahan advised the plaintiff that her leave had expired and that

"[Y]our letter of resignation due to health effective August 18, 1978 now appears appropriate. Please send the letter to me at my Springfield Office no later than August 31, 1978.

Failure to submit the resignation or to return to work as directed may result in charges for discharge for failure to report to work in accordance with Department of Personnel Rule 3-153. * * *."

The plaintiff responded in a letter to Callahan dated August 31, 1978. That letter stated, in part, "Inasmuch as I am physically unable to return to work as of this date, I would appreciate your granting me a six month leave of absence for medical reasons." On September 5, 1978, Callahan filed charges and a discharge order against the plaintiff.

A hearing was held on November 15, 1978. At the hearing, Fryzel, the plaintiff's immediate supervisor, testified that if the requested six-month leave had been granted, the Division would be "hampered" in meeting its statutory mandate to examine every currency exchange in the State at least once a year. On December 21, 1978, the hearing officer recommended that the plaintiff be discharged. The Commission adopted the hearing officer's findings and recommendations. The plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review in ...


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