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Wilson v. All-steel

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 13, 1981.

ELOUISE WILSON ET AL., APPELLANTS,

v.

ALL-STEEL, INC., APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County, the Hon. John A. Krause, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE RYAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Elouise Wilson, was employed by the defendant, All-Steel, Inc., as a final assembler in a manufacturing plant that produced metal furniture. After being so employed for slightly more than one month, she was discharged on July 6, 1977. The stated reasons for her termination were that she failed to obey company rules regarding the wearing of safety glasses, as well as her apparent inability to handle the physical requirements of the job. On August 17, 1977, Elouise Wilson, who is black, filed a charge with the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). The FEPC previously existed pursuant to the Fair Employment Practices Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 48, par. 851 et seq.). That statute has been repealed and replaced by the Illinois Human Rights Act (Ill. Rev. Stat., 1980 Supp., ch. 68, par. 1-101 et seq.), which incorporates substantially all of the provisions previously found in the Fair Employment Practices Act. Plaintiff, in her charge filed with FEPC, alleged that her termination was both sexually and racially discriminatory.

On January 12, 1979, the FEPC issued a complaint in the cause and set the matter down for a hearing. Since the complaint was not issued within 180 days after the filing of the charge, as required by statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 48, par. 858.01), the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint as untimely. This motion was denied, and following a hearing before a hearing examiner, a finding recommending certain relief was entered in favor of the plaintiff. On review, the full commission dismissed the complaint in response to recent decisions of this court holding that the 180-day period in which the Commission "shall * * * issue and serve a complaint" is mandatory. See Board of Governors v. Illinois Fair Employment Practices Com. (1979), 78 Ill.2d 143; Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Plan Com. v. Fair Employment Practices Com. (1978), 71 Ill.2d 61.

In 1978 the Illinois General Assembly amended the Fair Employment Practices Act to include section 8.01a (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 48, par. 858.01a). That section, which became effective on September 16, 1978, created a new cause of action for those persons whose claims had been barred by administrative delay. That section provided:

"In the case of any charge of an unfair employment practice which has been properly filed with the Commission prior to March 30, 1978, which has not been settled or adjusted by conference and conciliation under Section 8, and which within 180 days thereafter has not been the subject of a complaint issued by the Commission or an order that no complaint be issued, the person filing the charge may seek appropriate injunctive or other relief by filing an action in the circuit court of the county where the alleged unfair employment practice occurred, and if the person prevails in such action the court may award such person costs and reasonable attorneys' fees. The Commission shall notify all such persons by registered mail of their right to seek such relief and any such action must be initiated in the circuit court within 2 years of the receipt of such notice, notwithstanding any other statute of limitations imposed on such actions." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 48, par. 858.01a.

The substance of this section is now found in the Illinois Human Rights Act (Ill. Rev. Stat., 1980 Supp., ch. 68, par. 9-102(B)). Elouise Wilson filed suit in the circuit court of Kane County alleging that she was a person acquiring a right of action under this section. The complaint prayed for relief almost identical to that originally recommended by the FEPC hearing examiner. The defendant challenged the constitutionality of section 8.01a by filing a motion to dismiss, which alleged that the effect of the statute was to deprive All-Steel of equal protection of the laws and to take its property without due process by reviving a previously barred cause of action in violation of the United States and Illinois constitutions. Further, the motion alleged that section 8.01a constituted prohibited special legislation under article IV, section 13, of the 1970 Constitution of Illinois. The Department of Human Rights (successor to the FEPC) was granted leave to intervene and filed several documents in support of the plaintiff's position opposing the defendant's motion. The trial court found section 8.01a "unconstitutional for the reasons submitted in defendant's motion" and entered an order dismissing the complaint. A direct appeal was taken to this court pursuant to Rule 302(a) (73 Ill.2d R. 302(a)).

We hold that section 8.01a, currently section 9-102(B) of the Illinois Human Rights Act (Ill. Rev. Stat., 1980 Supp., ch. 68, par. 9-102(B)), constitutes prohibited special legislation and violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution of the State of Illinois.

In Illinois Polygraph Society v. Pellicano (1980), 83 Ill.2d 130, the subtle distinctions between the concepts of equal protection and special legislation were discussed:

"Special legislation confers a special benefit or exclusive privilege on a person or a group of persons to the exclusion of others similarly situated. (Bridgewater v. Hotz (1972), 51 Ill.2d 103, 109-110.) It arbitrarily, and without a sound, reasonable basis, discriminates in favor of a select group. Such legislation differs from `local laws' because it is not limited to a geographical portion of the State. (Bridgewater v. Hotz (1972), 51 Ill.2d 103, 109; G. Braden & R. Cohn, The Illinois Constitution: An Annotated and Comparative Analysis 206 (1969).) Special legislation differs from a violation of equal protection in that the latter consists of arbitrary and invidious discrimination against a person or class of persons. It results from the governmental withholding of a right, privilege or benefit from a person or a class of persons without a reasonable basis (or, where a fundamental right or suspect classification is involved, a compelling State interest) for doing so. Whether a law is attacked as special legislation or as violative of equal protection, it is still the duty of the courts> to decide whether the classification is unreasonable in that it preferentially and arbitrarily includes a class (special legislation) to the exclusion of all others, or improperly denies a benefit to a class (equal protection). (See Anderson v. Wagner (1979), 79 Ill.2d 295, 315.) While certain pieces of legislation may be attacked as both special legislation and violative of equal protection since they confer a benefit on one class while denying a benefit to another, there will be many cases where a benefit is conferred on one class to which no other class has a right. In those cases, legislation would be attacked as special legislation but not as violative of equal protection." (Emphasis in original.) (Illinois Polygraph Society v. Pellicano (1980), 83 Ill.2d 130, 137-38.)

In the case at bar, the defendant has raised and argued both a violation of our equal protection and special legislation clauses. We note that section 8.01a creates a new and limited remedy where none previously existed. Also, it denies to the defendant herein certain defenses available to employers similarly situated against whom complaints were filed after March 30, 1978.

There can be no question but that the legislature has broad discretion in passing statutes designed to remedy what it perceives to be undesirable results reached under existing law. To this end, the General Assembly may make classifications and draw distinctions upon any rational basis. (Hoffmann v. Clark (1977), 69 Ill.2d 402, 425; King v. Johnson (1970), 47 Ill.2d 247, 250; Conlon Brothers Manufacturing Co. v. Annunzio (1951), 409 Ill. 277, 285; Bowers v. Glos (1931), 346 Ill. 623, 630-31.) These classifications will be upheld so long as they do not violate constitutional guarantees. Prior to the adoption of the 1970 Constitution, this court's review of legislative action in most cases of "special legislation" was limited to a comparison of the enactment in question with the constitutional list of prohibited areas in which the legislature could not act specially. (See Anderson v. Wagner (1979), 79 Ill.2d 295, 312-14; Ill. Const. 1870, art. IV, § 22.) However, under the 1970 Constitution, the General Assembly is placed under a duty to pass only general laws, wherever possible, and the task of deciding whether this duty has been discharged is specifically designated as a matter for judicial determination. (Ill. Const. 1970, art. IV, § 13.) Although our courts> may now be viewed as possessing a much wider range of review over legislative enactments, the standard to be applied has not been altered. (S. Bloom, Inc. v. Mahin (1975), 61 Ill.2d 70, 76-77; Bridgewater v. Hotz (1972), 51 Ill.2d 103, 110.) Our court has held that the special legislation section of the Illinois Constitution allows differential treatment among similarly situated persons if the classification made bears a rational relationship to a legitimate legislative purpose. Illinois Housing Development Authority v. Van Meter (1980), 82 Ill.2d 116, 124; Anderson v. Wagner (1979), 79 Ill.2d 295, 315; Youhas v. Ice (1974), 56 Ill.2d 497, 500; People ex rel. City of Salem v. McMackin (1972), 53 Ill.2d 347, 363-64; Bridgewater v. Hotz (1972), 51 Ill.2d 103, 111.

In the case at bar, the evil sought to be cured by section 8.01a (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 48, par. 858.01a) arises from the fact that the 180-day provision of section 8.01 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 48, par. 858.01) has been held to be a mandatory requirement which must be complied with and that no complaint can be issued by the FEPC beyond the specified period (Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Plan Com. v. Fair Employment Practices Com. (1978), 71 Ill.2d 61). Claimants under the Act might therefore lose their right to recover due to administrative delay. In Springfield-Sangamon County, the 180-day period was likened to a statute of limitations in its effect, and it was held that the running of the period deprived the Commission of the power to act on the claim. (Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Plan Com. v. Fair Employment Practices Com. (1978), 71 Ill.2d 61, 68-69.) The reason for holding this period mandatory rather than directory was that the court recognized an employer has a right to an expeditious determination of his liability under the Act. Periods of inactivity on behalf of the FEPC would tend to hamper the remedial and reconciliatory procedures which underlie the very purpose of the Fair Employment Practices Act. The statutory time period, chosen by the legislature, seeks to balance the rights of an aggrieved individual who has suffered supposed discrimination against the rights of those charged under the Act to have a prompt determination of the validity of the claim lodged against them. Because section 8.01a of the 1979 act operates to circumvent the 180-day period and consequently the purpose which it serves, there must exist a rational basis for the classification which creates a cause of action in favor of those who filed charges with the FEPC prior to March 30, 1978, and whose rights under the Act were lost because of administrative delay. Prior to March 30, 1978, the Fair Employment Practices Act provided:

"Whenever such a charge of an unfair employment practice has been properly filed, the Commission, within 180 days thereof or within any extension of that 180 day period agreed to in writing by all parties and approved by a member of the Commission, shall either issue and serve a complaint in the manner and form set forth in this Section or shall order that no complaint ...


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