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Buckhalter v. Pepsi-Cola General Bottlers Inc.

decided: May 29, 1987.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, No. 83 C 3493, Nicholas J. Bua, Judge.

Author: Coffey

Before BAUER, Chief Judge, COFFEY, Circuit Judge, and GRAY, Senior District Judge.*fn*

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed Buckhalter's Title VII and Section 1983 claims on the basis of an administrative res judicata finding that Buckhalter failed to avail himself of the opportunity to litigate these issues in the administrative hearing. This Court affirmed the order of the District Court. Subsequent to our decision in this case the United States Supreme Court decided University of Tennessee v. Elliott, 478 U.S. 788, 106 S. Ct. 3220, 92 L. Ed. 2d 635 (1986), and contemporaneous therewith vacated and remanded this court's decision in Buckhalter for further consideration in light of Elliott.


In Elliott, the Supreme Court held that, under the reconstruction civil rights statutes, federal common-law rules of preclusion will apply where a state agency acts in a judicial capacity to resolve disputed issues of fact where the parties had a previous adequate opportunity to litigate, since Congress in enacting the civil rights statutes did not intend to create an exception to the general rule of preclusion. Elliott, 478 U.S. 788, 106 S. Ct. 3220, 92 L. Ed. 2d 635 . See also, Utah Construction & Mining Co., 384 U.S. 394, 422, 16 L. Ed. 2d 642, 86 S. Ct. 1545 (1966). Robert Elliott was a black employee who was discharged from the University of Tennessee for inadequate work performance as well as misconduct on the job. Elliott pursued his state administrative remedies and the state administrative law judge (ALJ), after hearing extensive evidence, made a finding that Elliott's discharge had not been racially motivated. Elliott appealed the ALJ's decision to the vice president for agriculture of the University of Tennessee, the proper reviewing agency under Tennessee law, who upheld the ALJ's ruling.

Instead of seeking review of the administrative proceedings in state court, Elliott pursued his remedies in federal court under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Supreme Court analyzed Elliott's Title VII and § 1983 claims separately and held that Elliott was entitled to a trial de novo in federal court on his Title VII claim, but was precluded from relitigating his civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the federal courts since Congress did not intend the Reconstruction civil rights statutes to create an exception to general rules of preclusion. 106 S. Ct. at 3225.

In the instant case, the defendant, Pepsi-Cola General Bottlers, Inc. ("Pepsi-Cola") discharged the plaintiff, Robert Buckhalter, a black employee, on June 10, 1978, for violating a company rule which prohibited employees from possessing alcoholic beverages or non-prescription drugs at anytime on company property. Buckhalter filed a grievance through his union representative and a grievance hearing was held pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement entered into between Pepsi-Cola and Teamsters Local 744, Buckhalter's union. The Industrial Relations Manager of Pepsi-Cola, who presided over the grievance hearing, upheld Buckhalter's discharge. See In re Buckhalter and Pepsi-Cola General Bottlers, Inc., 7 Ill. H.R.C. Rep. 96, 103-07 (1982). Buckhalter appealed this decision to the company's Labor Management Committee who affirmed the decision of the company's Industrial Relations Manager.

In August, 1978, Buckhalter filed a charge with the Illinois Fair Employment Practice Commission ("FEPC") alleging that Pepsi-Cola had engaged in an act of racial discrimination in that it had reinstated a white employee while they refused to reinstate Buckhalter who was charged with the same type of misconduct as the white employee. In March, 1979, the FEPC conducted an investigation and thereafter made a finding that there was a lack of substantial evidence to support Buckhalter's claims of race discrimination. Buckhalter requested to FEPC to reconsider its decision and on May 29, 1979 the FEPC reversed its prior determination and issued a racial discrimination complaint.

In accordance with the provisions of Illinois law, the FEPC assigned Buckhalter's race discrimination complaint to the Administrative Law Judge, Patricia Patton. A four-day adversarial hearing was held and both Pepsi-Cola and Buckhalter were represented by counsel; each side conducted and submitted extensive pre-hearing discovery as well as exhaustive legal memoranda in support of their respective positions. At the hearing the parties examined and cross-examined witnesses in accord with the applicable Illinois Rules of Evidence.

In March 1982, the ALJ issued findings of fact and conclusions of law. See In re Buckhalter, 7 Ill. H.R.C. Rep. at 102-15. The ALJ found that Buckhalter's race discrimination claim was not without merit and that Pepsi-Cola had established a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for Buckhalter's discharge.

In November 1982, a three-member panel of the Illinois Human Rights Commission ("HRC") affirmed the ALJ's ruling on the basis that the facts contained in the administrative record were not against the great weight of the evidence and dismissed the complaint. Buckhalter then requested a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and received it on March 7, 1983. Buckhalter, rather than obtaining judicial review of the state agency decision in the Circuit Court of Cook County, chose to pursue his Title VII claim in the federal court, and on May 22, 1983, Buckhalter filed a separate lawsuit in federal court alleging race discrimination in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000-e2(a) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.



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