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Lee v. Illinois Racing Bd. Laboratory





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


This is an action under the Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 110, pars. 264 through 279) for the review of an order of the Civil Service Commission of the State of Illinois (Commission), which dismissed plaintiff Fred G.H. Lee (Lee) as a certified employee of the Illinois Racing Board Laboratory (Laboratory). The trial court affirmed the Commission's decision, and Lee has appealed, contending that (1) the Commission's decision is against the manifest weight of the evidence and is not supported by substantial evidence; (2) he was not dismissed for cause; (3) he was illegally suspended without pay prior to investigation and hearing; and (4) the Laboratory did not evaluate him on a yearly basis, as required by the Personnel Rules of the State of Illinois.

We affirm. The facts are as follows.

Lee was employed by the Illinois Racing Board (Board) on June 1, 1973. He was assigned to work in the Laboratory in the position title of Chemist IV and was certified as an employee on December 22, 1973. Lee had been hired by John L. McDonald, director of the Laboratory, to be his assistant. A year later McDonald named another Chemist IV as his assistant but Lee's position classification was not changed.

On January 10, 1977, the Board initiated discharge proceedings against Lee, alleging that he was unable or unwilling to perform assigned tasks, that he created discord among Laboratory employees, and that he did not follow generally accepted standards of chemical laboratory work. The charges were amended to eliminate any of Lee's actions prior to 1976 and proceeded to hearing on the following specific allegations:

"(1) On or about November 8, 9, 22, 29, 30, December 1 and December 4, 1976 [Lee], was given 7 urine samples and failed to give any conclusive chemical results in a reasonable period of time.

(2) On December 16, 1976 at a bus stop on the way to work Mr. Lee approached Navin Pandya, Laboratory Technician II, and threatened him if he would not sign a written document prepared by Mr. Lee. On October 6, 1976 Mr. Lee assaulted physically and verbally Shelly Kalita in the laboratory by attempting to take out of her hands a dangerous chemical bottle of chloroform.

(3) On October 28, 1976 Mr. Lee directed Navin Pandya to put technical grade chloroform into bottles not so labeled."

The hearing began on February 18, 1977, and concluded on June 17. On July 28, 1977, the hearing officer found that the charges had been proved and that they warranted discharge. The Commission adopted the hearing officer's findings on August 18, 1977, and ordered Lee's discharge.

John L. McDonald, the Laboratory director who had hired Lee, described the procedures of the Laboratory. Each year, the Laboratory receives approximately 25,000 blood and urine specimens from the various racetracks around the State. The Laboratory analyzes the specimens to determine whether they contain either controlled drugs, which are permissible within certain guidelines, or prohibited drugs, which may not be used at all for a racehorse. The Laboratory follows forensic procedures, maintaining a chain of custody on all exhibits so that the resulting data may be used in court if necessary.

The general analysis procedures followed in the Laboratory were described by McDonald and several other Laboratory employees: Lillian Gachich, a Chemist III; Jeff Wang, also a Chemist III; Raymond Lyons, a Chemist IV; and Shelly Kalita, a Technician. The specimens undergo a preliminary screening analysis to determine the presence of a controlled or prohibited substance. If any of these substances are present, a reconfirmation analysis, or recheck, is performed to verify the initial positive results.

The screening analysis begins with the extraction of the specimens at pH levels of 5.5 and 9.5 *fn1 and acid hydrolysis is performed. Thin layer chromatography (TLC), the first test conducted, is then performed. TLC separates the extract components on specially coated glass plates, which, when subject to different solvents, will separate the mixture into its various components. After TLC, gas chromatography (GC) is performed by putting the residue through a hot column and observing the reactions in the column. Based on these two tests, an opinion can be rendered as to what substance, if any, is present, because each substance has a characteristic reaction in TLC and GC. Opinions based on TLC and GC can be obtained in one to three days. Reconfirmation analysis is performed where unequivocal identification is needed, usually if one of the controlled or prohibited substances is found in the preliminary screening. Reconfirmation analysis may repeat the TLC and GC tests and will also use the more sophisticated tests of mass spectrometry or ultraviolet (UV) analysis.

According to McDonald, when the specimens arrive at the Laboratory, it is not known whether any prohibited or controlled substance is present. Although there are literally thousands of drugs and chemicals that may be present, the Laboratory routinely tests for only 20 to 30 substances which are most likely to be administered to horses and which recur rather frequently in the specimens received from the racetracks.

The preliminary screening of the specimens is usually done by laboratory technicians, with the reconfirmation analysis being done by Chemist III's and IV's. McDonald had become dissatisfied with Lee's performance because Lee kept coming back with inconclusive results on reconfirmations, although such results are considered rare in the Laboratory. McDonald had had to assign Lee to do daily rechecks on minor controlled medicine violations, although Lee was the only Chemist IV who was doing that kind of work.

Because of Lee's repeated inability to reach conclusions, McDonald had chemists Lillian Gachich and Jeff Wang prepare seven test specimens for Lee from already identified specimens. The specimens contained the following substances: dipyrine, caffeine, guaiacol glycerol ether (GGE), phenylbutazone and theobromine. One of the samples was not given and one of them had no prohibited substance. Lee reached no conclusion on any of the samples and did not complete the tests on the GGE.

Shelly Kalita, a laboratory technician, testified that plaintiff had tried to grab a bottle of chloroform from her in the quantitative analysis laboratory. He had walked into the room as she was taking the bottle from under the sink and he began yelling at her, telling her to put the bottle back and that she had no business taking it. Chloroform is a dangerous substance if spilled on the skin and Ms. Kalita became frightened and began calling for help. Lee momentarily blocked Ms. Kalita's exit from the laboratory, screaming and saying that she was a troublemaker and that he would see that she was fired. Ms. Kalita returned to the TLC laboratory but ...

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