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07/14/87 the Department of v. the Department of

July 14, 1987




510 N.E.2d 623, 157 Ill. App. 3d 988, 109 Ill. Dec. 755 1987.IL.989

Date Filed: July 14, 1987; May 19, 1987, nunc pro tunc

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Marilyn R. Komosa, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE BILANDIC delivered the opinion of the court. SCARIANO, P.J., and HARTMAN, J., concur.


Defendant, Illinois Department of Employment Security, appeals from an order of the circuit court of Cook County which reversed its decision that plaintiff, Irene Collier, was ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits because she voluntarily terminated her employment without good cause. In this appeal, defendant contends that the denial of benefits was supported by the manifest weight of the evidence and that the circuit court's order to the contrary should be reversed.

The record shows that plaintiff was employed as an assembler by J.B. Electronic Transformers, Inc., from November 1981 until September 30, 1983. From the inception of her employment until three weeks before her departure, plaintiff worked an eight-hour shift, five days per week, and earned at the hourly rate of $3.95. Because of a business slowdown, the company reduced plaintiff's work to 30 hours per week, and on September 26, 1983, plaintiff informed her supervisor that she would leave at the end of the month if her hours were not increased. Her supervisor told her that they did not have enough work to reinstate her to full time, and although he could not specifically tell her when her hours would be restored, he estimated that it would be within three to four weeks.

Plaintiff terminated her employment with the company at the end of September and applied for benefits under the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act (Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 48, par. 300 et seq.). The claims adjudicator denied her request and she appealed that decision to the referee. At the hearing which was held in November 1983, plaintiff was represented by counsel and there testified to the curtailment of her hours during the business slowdown and her request for reinstatement to full-time status. Her supervisor told her that the company was not yet ready to increase her hours and that he was not sure of when she would be returned to full-time work; he also advised her to look for another job. Plaintiff stated that she had been looking for full-time factory work without success before she left and did not have another job when she terminated her employment. A week after she left she learned that other employees, who also had been subjected to the work reduction, had been put back on a full-time schedule.

The referee affirmed the determination of the claims adjudicator that plaintiff was disqualified for benefits under the Act because she left her employment without good cause attributable to the employer. This decision was confirmed by defendant on March 5, 1984, and plaintiff sought administrative review. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 110, par. 3-101 et seq.) The record shows that the circuit court remanded the matter to defendant for a determination of the conditions and circumstances surrounding the employment agreement between plaintiff and the employer, including a determination of whether or not there was a contract guarantee as to hours and the economic circumstances surrounding plaintiff's decision to leave her job. In accordance with that order, defendant vacated its decision of March 5, 1984, and remanded the cause to the referee for further proceedings.

At the hearing which followed on March 20, 1985, plaintiff testified that when she was hired there was no particular agreement as to the number of hours she would work, but that she did work full time until the cutback went into effect three weeks before she left. After her hours were reduced, she requested that they be restored, but she was told by her supervisor that the work was slow and that the company was not ready to place her back on a 40-hour schedule. She did not tell her supervisor that she was going to leave at first, and began looking for another job in the afternoon hours when her daily shift was completed. She eventually told her supervisor that she would quit and look for a better job if her hours were not restored, and he agreed that she should seek other work. At that time, plaintiff also asked her supervisor about the possibility of receiving partial unemployment insurance benefits, but he told her that she would not be eligible and she did not make any further inquiries into the matter. As to her economic condition, plaintiff testified that with the reduced hours she was "making out," but could not meet all of her expenses and had to take her children out of private school. She also stated that she had not returned to work as of that date and was on public assistance. She concluded her testimony by saying that she took a chance when she quit her job in order to find a better one.

At the close of evidence, plaintiff's counsel argued that when plaintiff's hours were reduced 25%, her income was reduced accordingly, and that she had made a reasonable attempt to correct the situation at work before leaving to find a better job. He maintained that the unilateral change in her working conditions was caused by the employer, and that plaintiff should be found eligible for benefits.

The referee concluded that plaintiff left voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employer, and was thus disqualified for benefits under the Act. In doing so, the referee concluded that the reduced hours allowed plaintiff an opportunity to look for other work in the afternoon, and although her desire to look for work on a full-time basis was understandable, it did not constitute good cause for leaving existing, suitable work due to a temporary reduction in hours. The referee also found that plaintiff had not established that the employer had violated any provision of the hiring agreement, or had taken any other action which rendered continued employment unsuitable.

On appeal, defendant affirmed the decision of the referee noting that plaintiff could have filed a claim for benefits if her wages were less than her weekly benefit amount and, further, that the evidence did not establish that her opportunities for alternate work were materially reduced because she was limited to seeking work during afternoon hours because of her morning work schedule.

Once again, plaintiff sought administrative review of defendant's decision and after a hearing on April 30, 1986, the circuit court entered an order reversing defendant's determination. The court found that plaintiff was hired for full-time work, that she labored in that capacity for two years and that the employer's decision to reduce her hours by 25% was a unilateral and substantial change in her conditions of employment which translated into a 25% reduction in wages which made it difficult for her to live. The court also found that plaintiff attempted to remedy the situation with her employer and sought other work while she was still ...

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