Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Arthur
L. Dunne, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE WHITE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
The Illinois Civil Service Commission suspended defendant, Cedric Chaney, from his employment with plaintiff, the Department of Labor of the State of Illinois, for 90 days. On review sought by the Department, the circuit court of Cook County reversed the Commission's decision and remanded the cause with directions to enter an order of discharge. The issue before this court is the propriety of the circuit court's reversal of the Commission's decision.
The record shows that the Department of Labor filed the following charges in a discharge proceeding against Chaney, who was employed as a clerk by the Department:
"You [Chaney] are hereby discharged for conduct unbecoming a State employee. You collected unemployment insurance benefits to which you were not entitled during the period from March 8, 1980 through April 12, 1980, while you were in pay status with the Illinois Bureau of Employment Security, Division of Unemployment Insurance [of the Department of Labor]. You knowingly withheld information on your certifications submitted for unemployment benefits in that you failed to report your employment and earnings during the above named period. This action caused you to obtain a total of $498.00 in unemployment insurance benefits to which you were not entitled for the weeks listed below:
March 8, 1980 $83.00 March 15, 1980 83.00 March 22, 1980 83.00 March 29, 1980 83.00 April 5, 1980 83.00 April 12, 1980 83.00."
At a hearing before a hearing officer of the Civil Service Commission, the following undisputed facts were admitted into evidence. Chaney was employed by the Department of Labor as a clerk beginning on March 3, 1980; however, on March 8, 1980, March 28, 1980, and April 13, 1980, Chaney signed "claim certification" forms certifying that he was unemployed for the two-week periods covered by the respective forms. In addition, Chaney endorsed and cashed payroll checks which were issued to him by the State on March 25, 1980, April 9, 1980, and April 24, 1980, and he also endorsed and cashed unemployment insurance benefit checks which were dated March 17, 1980, April 1, 1980, and April 15, 1980, and which were each in the amount of $166.
Chaney testified at the hearing. He admitted that he knowingly withheld information on the three certification forms. He explained that he had been unemployed prior to obtaining his position with the Department of Labor and that he submitted the certification forms in order to recoup benefits which he believed to be due to him for the period of his unemployment. In this regard, Chaney testified that he was employed by the Department of Administrative Services until January 1980, but that he could not remember the exact date. Chaney also testified that after he had recouped the unemployment benefits to which he thought he was entitled, he submitted a form which stated that he was employed, and that after he became aware that he had received unemployment benefits to which he was not entitled, he entered into a written agreement with the Department of Labor whereby he agreed to repay $498 in benefits in monthly installments of $41.50.
Norman Harelik, supervisor of the internal investigations unit of the Unemployment Insurance Division of the Bureau of Employment Security of the Department of Labor, testified that Chaney was not entitled to unemployment benefits for the weeks listed in the written charges for discharge; that according to a computer record Chaney had stated that his previous employment with the Department of Administrative Services had ceased on February 1, 1980; and that Chaney first applied for unemployment benefits on February 19, 1980. Harelik further testified that it is not proper for a claimant of unemployment benefits to recoup benefits that he should have but did not receive by submitting claim certifications containing false information, and that there was a procedure for back-dating claims for unemployment benefits.
There was also testimony at this hearing by Frank Sellers, the manager of the labor-management relations division of the Bureau of Employment Security, concerning the Department of Labor's policy in cases where employees had fraudulently received unemployment benefits. According to him, the Department's general unwritten policy is to impose a one-week suspension for each week of benefits wrongfully received and to discharge an employee who has improperly received more than four weeks of benefits. The Department would, however, consider mitigating circumstances, such as the employee's work record, in determining whether the sanction indicated by the general policy should be reduced. Sellers specifically testified that if an employee received six weeks of benefits to which he was not entitled, the general policy would be to discharge the employee. With regard to this general policy, personnel action forms concerning the discipline imposed on five other employees who had improperly received unemployment benefits were introduced into evidence. This evidence is summarized in the following chart:
Weeks of Amount of Employee Benefits Benefits Discipline Effective date
J. Anderson 1 $70 7 day suspension 6-7-82
M. Smith 3 192 7 day suspension 5-28-82
M. Geredine 3 405 21 day ...