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Altman v. Health & Hospitals Governing Com.

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 2, 1980.

JOHN E. ALTMAN ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

THE HEALTH AND HOSPITALS GOVERNING COMMISSION OF COOK COUNTY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. NATHAN M. COHEN, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE DOWNING DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiffs, 83 former employees of defendant Health and Hospitals Governing Commission of Cook County (the Commission), *fn1 brought this action seeking reinstatement of employment. After a bench trial, the court made several findings of fact and concluded the Commission, arbitrarily and in bad faith, laid off plaintiffs. The court then awarded plaintiffs back pay and ordered their reinstatement. On appeal, the Commission raises two issues: (1) whether the trial court's findings are against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (2) whether plaintiffs were afforded hearings which satisfied due process of law requirements.

On March 27, 1978, plaintiffs were notified that they would be laid off "due to lack of funds," effective April 7, 1978. Plaintiffs are tradesmen who were "merit employees" working in the Building and Grounds Departments at Oak Forest and Cook County Hospitals. These health care facilities were operated by the Commission pursuant to the County Hospitals Governing Commission Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 34, par. 5011 et seq.).

On April 18, 1978, plaintiffs filed this action. Count I of the second amended complaint alleges the Commission's March 22, 1978, resolution authorizing a reduction in expenditures and a layoff of employees was not required because the Cook County Board of Commissioners appropriated increased funds for fiscal year 1978 which were sufficient to continue plaintiffs' employment. Therefore, plaintiffs allege, their layoffs were in bad faith. Count II states plaintiffs have a constitutionally-protected property interest in their continued employment sufficient to require plenary hearings regarding layoffs. Defendants answered that its total funding for fiscal year 1978 was insufficient to meet all expenses in its original proposed 1978 budget, and it therefore exercised its discretion and reduced budgeted expenditures by, inter alia, reorganizing its construction program and laying off plaintiffs. Defendants also respond that plaintiffs had access to adequate hearings.

At trial, several plaintiffs testified as to the nature and duties of their former employment, their years on the job, and the wages and benefits they received. Workers in the following categories were given notices of a layoff on March 27, 1978: carpenters, painters, plasterers and lathers, plumbers, bricklayers, electricians, and steam fitters. A glazier was also laid off. However, not all tradesmen were laid off.

The April 7 layoff notices indicated the layoff was "due to a lack of funds" and that any recalls would follow the Commission's Personnel Policy and Procedures Manual. Some of the laid off employees requested and were given hearings to contest the procedures used in their layoffs. The scope of these hearings did not extend to inquiry regarding the justification for the layoffs. Four employees at the Oak Forest Hospital were subsequently recalled.

Plaintiffs also adduced testimony that Thomas Quilty, the mechanics supervisor at Cook County Hospital, told plaintiffs Gary Ellinger and John Crocco that all painters and bricklayers would be laid off in order to eliminate the foremen of those shops. Forty-two tradesmen were employed in those shops.

Plaintiffs introduced various exhibits which included Commission purchase orders for services performed by subcontractors. These services paralleled, in many cases, the work previously performed by the civil service plaintiffs. The purchase orders indicated the subcontracted services were performed on an as-needed basis throughout the next 18 months at both facilities. A major renovation of a building at Oak Forest Hospital was accomplished through subcontracted work, although that work was not let by the Commission.

Testimony indicated plaintiffs were not explicitly told they had a right under Commission policy to request transfers to other positions at the hospitals. Nontrade job positions were subsequently filled with new employees.

Defendants produced the testimony of James G. Haughton, the Commission's executive director. He testified that the Commission received its funds from patients and third-party payers. The balance of its funds is provided by the Cook County Board of Commissioners (the Board). The Commission's budgets are set and approved by the Board. The Board approved a 1978 budget which was $18 million less than what the Commission requested. Haughton advised the Commission of that fact and it passed a resolution, No. 78-HHGC-50, authorizing him to make reductions in budgeted expenditures. The reductions were to be made with the object of maintaining patient care quality. Hospital directors were told to submit reduction proposals. One of those proposals included a layoff of plaintiffs. Haughton approved that proposal, among others.

Members of the Commission also testified that they were apprised of the financial crisis and that an expected $8 to $10 million revenue shortfall necessitated cutbacks. They then voted for the above numbered resolution.

John DiLisi, director of the Building and Grounds Department at Cook County Hospital, testified that Thomas Quilty had no authority to lay off any employee. He also stated that after the layoff several contracts were let for services never previously performed by plaintiffs.

Robert Landsman, an independent accountant, testified that he reviewed the proposed budget and anticipated shortfall with members of the Commission after his firm had conducted a hundred-hour examination of the Commission's finances. Defendant then submitted to the court various exhibits in support of its testimony.

After argument of counsel the trial court orally stated its findings:

"The evidence clearly showed that the members of the Commission believed that they were going to fall short of their anticipated budget by several million dollars, and that some budget cuts would have to be made. The members desired to make cuts in areas that would least effect ...


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