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Woodward Gov. Co. v. Human Rights Com.

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 19, 1985.

WOODWARD GOVERNOR COMPANY, APPELLEE,

v.

THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION, APPELLANT (BILLIE RAYMER, DEFENDANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County; the Hon. Alford R. Penniman, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE STROUSE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Woodward Governor Company (Woodward) filed an administrative review complaint in the circuit court of Winnebago County to review an order and decision of the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission). The Commission affirmed the recommended order and decision of the administrative law judge finding Woodward guilty of unlawful sex discrimination in its dress code. The trial court reversed the Commission decision, and the Commission appealed.

The basis of this case is a charge of sex discrimination filed by Ms. Billie Raymer on December 28, 1979, before the Illinois Fair Employment Practices Commission alleging a violation of the Fair Employment Practices Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 48, par. 851 et seq.). (It should be noted that this act was thereafter replaced by the Illinois Human Rights Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 68, par. 1-101 et seq.), effective July 1, 1980, and that the Human Rights Commission assumed jurisdiction over all actions pending before the Fair Employment Practices Commission (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 68, par. 9-102).) Raymer claimed Woodward, her employer, was guilty of unlawful discrimination based upon sex by permitting men to wear slacks and boots while at work while forbidding women to do so under its dress code.

On October 22, 1980, the Department of Human Rights, responsible for investigation of such charges, found substantial evidence to support the charge, and filed a formal complaint of civil rights violation with the Commission, charging the company with unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex.

The parties agreed to submit the cause for determination based on a stipulated record and cross motions for summary judgment. On November 25, 1981, the administrative law judge (ALJ) of the Commission filed a recommended order and decision.

The ALJ made a finding of fact that the company maintained a dress code which expressly prohibited female employees from wearing slacks or boots, while permitting similarly situated men to wear such attire solely on account of their sex. The ALJ then determined that Woodward's dress code was not equally enforced and that it operates more restrictively or otherwise has a discriminatory impact upon female employees. This established a prima facie case of sex discrimination. Women did not violate fundamental community standards concerning appropriate male/female demeanor by wearing slacks and dress boots in a factory's manufacturing or office area. Woodward failed to show that the unequal application or effect of the appearance standard is a business necessity.

The ALJ decision noted that this determination was consistent with Illinois Fair Employment Practices Commission precedents as well as Illinois and Federal employment discrimination rulings. The ALJ then recommended that the Commission order Woodward to cease and desist the provisions of its dress code which prohibit female employees from wearing slacks and boots.

On August 3, 1982, a divided panel (2 to 1) of the Commission affirmed and adopted the findings of the ALJ, and ordered Woodward to cease and desist in the maintenance of all provisions of its dress code which prohibited female employees from wearing slacks and boots. The Commission's decision was finalized by order entered January 28, 1983.

Woodward filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Winnebago County on February 9, 1983, seeking reversal of the Commission's decision. Hearings were held in the matter on June 11, 1984, and July 12, 1984.

Raymer and Woodward agreed to pursue related litigation regarding the same dress code issues, pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. After denying motions for summary judgment filed by both parties, the Federal district judge set the case for trial.

On February 20, 1984, Raymer and Woodward executed a settlement agreement in which, inter alia, Woodward would modify its dress code to permit the wearing of boots but not slacks by women, and Raymer would dismiss the Federal suit and seek to withdraw her charge before the Commission.

To secure resolution of the matter and implementation of the settlement, on several occasions between February 24, 1984, and April 20, 1984, Woodward's counsel contacted Kent Sezer, the Commission's general counsel, informing him of the settlement and that Raymer now sought to withdraw her charge which was the basis for the Commission's decision. Sezer refused to permit such withdrawal on the Commission's behalf. Sezer stated that the Commission did not believe its regulations regarding settlements were effective once it made a final administrative decision. He further indicated that although the Commission had no objections to Woodward settling its dispute with Raymer, the Commission wished to retain its order against Woodward to benefit future potentially aggrieved female Woodward employees.

On May 1, 1984, Woodward filed a motion with the trial court to compel the Commission to approve the settlement agreement pursuant to the terms of the Illinois Human Rights Act and the Commission's own regulations. The trial court heard the arguments of Woodward and the Commission concerning the motion and ruled on the motion in conjunction with the decision on Woodward's entire administrative review action. The court thereby ordered "[t]he Settlement Agreement between Woodward Governor Company and Billie Raymer, dated February 20, 1984 was knowingly and voluntarily entered into, constitutes a fair agreement, and is hereby approved and the parties are bound to it." Moreover, the court ordered Woodward to pay $11,500 in Raymer's attorney fees, which sum was to be held in escrow pursuant to the settlement agreement.

The Commission appealed, raising two assignments of error: (1) that the trial court erred in reversing the Commission's decision finding Woodward guilty of sex discrimination, and (2) that the trial court erred in requiring the Commission to approve the settlement agreement. In view of our ...


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