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Adams v. Board of Fire & Police Comm'rs

OPINION FILED JUNE 3, 1986.

MICHAEL J. ADAMS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

THE BOARD OF FIRE AND POLICE COMMISSIONERS OF THE VILLAGE OF SKOKIE ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. George Higgins, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Michael J. Adams, appeals from the order of the circuit court of Cook County confirming the decision of defendant, the board of fire and police commissioners of the village of Skokie (the board), to demote him from the rank of captain to the rank of lieutenant on the village of Skokie fire department. Plaintiff contends that the sanction of demotion was arbitrary, unreasonable, and unrelated to the requirements of the service. We affirm.

On January 16, 1985, chief Thomas Quillin of the village of Skokie fire department (the department) filed charges against plaintiff with the board alleging violations of various departmental rules. Chief Quillin sought the demotion of plaintiff from captain to lieutenant, a fine, and a period of suspension. At the hearing on April 9, 1985, the parties stipulated to the following facts:

"In 1982, Michael Adams while on duty at the Fire Department obtained copies of certain portions of Peter Conrad's personnel files. These confidential files were located on a shelf in the storage closet of the Skokie Fire Department, maintained by the Village of Skokie Fire Department. Michael Adams took these documents, photocopied them and turned them over to Terry Gielow for use in a pending lawsuit between Firefighters Terry Gielow and Peter Conrad, stemming from a fist fight at a Skokie Fire station."

Plaintiff admitted that his conduct violated the following rules and regulations of the village of Skokie fire department:

"Rule 310.02 Standard of Conduct: Members and employees shall conduct their private and professional lives in such a manner as to avoid bringing the Department into disrepute.

Rule 310.04 Loyalty: Loyalty to the Department and to associates is an important factor in Departmental morale and efficiency. Members and employees shall maintain a loyalty to the Department and their associates as is consistent with the law and personal ethics.

Rule 380.72 Impartial Attitude: All members must remain completely impartial toward all persons coming to the attention of the Department. All citizens are guaranteed equal protection under the law. Exhibiting partiality for or against a person because of race, creed, or influence is unfiremanlike conduct. Similarly, unwarranted interference in the private business of others when not in the interest of justice is unfiremanlike conduct."

The board then heard testimony regarding the sanction to be imposed. Based on the stipulated facts the board found plaintiff guilty as charged, and, finding no justification or excuse for his conduct, ordered plaintiff to be demoted to the rank of lieutenant. On administrative appeal, the circuit court of Cook County confirmed the board's decision.

Plaintiff, as we have noted, contends that the sanction of demotion was arbitrary, unreasonable, and unrelated to the requirements of the service. We disagree.

The facts in this case are undisputed. Plaintiff stipulated that he had obtained and photocopied certain portions of firefighter Peter Conrad's confidential personnel files and delivered them to firefighter Terry Gielow for use in a pending lawsuit between Gielow and Conrad arising from a fist fight at a village of Skokie fire station. Plaintiff further stipulated that, in violation of the rules and regulations of the village of Skokie fire department, his conduct brought the fire department into disrepute, breached the duty of loyalty which plaintiff owed to the department and its members, reflected partiality, and constituted unwarranted interference in the private business of others. Based on this conduct, the board demoted plaintiff from captain to lieutenant.

• 1 In seeking judicial review of his demotion, plaintiff urges us to adopt the "substantial shortcoming" standard which has been applied in discharge cases. Under this standard, "cause" for discharge by an administrative agency is "a substantial shortcoming which renders an employee's continuance in office in some way detrimental to the discipline and efficiency of the service and which law and sound public policy recognize as good cause for his no longer holding his position." (Brown v. Civil Service Com. (1985), 133 Ill. App.3d 35, 41, 478 N.E.2d 541.) Plaintiff, however, cites no demotion case in which this test has been adopted.

A demotion necessarily implies a continuation of service in some different capacity and not a termination. (Colaw v. University Civil Service Merit Board (1975), 37 Ill. App.3d 857, 867, 341 N.E.2d 719 (Barry, J., dissenting).) Since demotion represents a less serious sanction than discharge, we do not believe that the same test for reviewing the reasonableness of a discharge should govern review of a demotion. (See Lakin v. Gorris (1983), 113 Ill. App.3d 1034, 1039, 448 N.E.2d 215 (application of the "substantial shortcoming" test should be limited to discharge cases).) Indeed, the courts have intimated that demotion may be an appropriate sanction in circumstances that would not warrant discharge. See Basketfield v. Daniel (1979), 71 Ill. App.3d 877, 881, 390 N.E.2d 492; Fox v. Illinois Civil Service Com. (1978), 66 Ill. App.3d 381, 390, 383 N.E.2d 1201.

• 2 The question presented by this appeal is whether, in view of the circumstances presented, we can say that the board, in deciding to demote plaintiff, acted unreasonably or arbitrarily or selected a type of discipline unrelated to the needs of the service. (Sutton v. Civil Service Com. (1982), 91 Ill.2d 404, 411, 438 N.E.2d 147; McDaniel v. ...


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