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08/24/87 James P. Worthen Et Al., v. the Secretary of State Et

August 24, 1987





513 N.E.2d 475, 160 Ill. App. 3d 325, 112 Ill. Dec. 61 1987.IL.1216

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. Richard E. Mann, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE LUND delivered the opinion of the court. SPITZ, P.J., and KNECHT, J., concur.


The plaintiffs in this appeal are 16 former employees of the Illinois Secretary of State's office (Secretary). They were laid off in 1984 when an entire division within the Secretary's office was eliminated. Plaintiffs attack this layoff as a "subterfuge" by which their employment was terminated outright based upon political affiliation. Plaintiffs also assert a failure to comply with the statutory prerequisites to a proper layoff plan as well as a violation of due process in not being afforded a full and fair hearing before the State of Illinois Merit Commission (Commission).

Plaintiffs originally brought their complaints to the Commission after receiving notice of their layoff in November 1984. At the Conclusion of several weeks of hearings, the layoffs were upheld by both a hearing officer and the Commission. Plaintiffs now appeal the order of the circuit court of Sangamon County affirming the Commission's decision.

Although their arguments are variously stated, we may break down the issues raised by the plaintiffs on appeal into four separate points of contention: (1) whether the layoffs were accomplished according to the applicable provisions of the Secretary of State Merit Employment Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 124, par. 101 et seq.) and the Personnel Code and Rules (80 Ill. Adm. Code 50.10 et seq. (1985)); (2) whether the plaintiffs' rights to reemployment were violated; (3) whether the layoff plan itself, taken together with the addition of several new employees within another division of the Secretary's office, were formulated in bad faith for political reasons; and (4) whether plaintiffs' right to a full hearing on all issues raised was not complied with.

The prolix facts and testimony of record are relevant to the extent necessary to properly determine the issues raised.

Plaintiffs were previously employed in the Auto Dealer Services Division within the Vehicle Service Department of the Secretary of State's office. Their official titles were auto dealer service representatives or supervisors. Plaintiff James Worthen, apparently the division administrator, was officially classified as administrative assistant III.

On October 22, 1984, Sam McGaw, Director of the Vehicle Services Department, submitted a layoff proposal to William Rolando, then the Acting Director of Personnel for the Secretary of State. In his memorandum explaining the layoff package, McGaw reviewed the auto dealer services program within his division and concluded a more cost-effective means of communicating with and furnishing materials to Illinois automobile dealerships was in order. Justifications for such a change in service, McGaw continued, included the lower costs associated with setting up telephone lines to provide dealerships with such services as opposed to having representatives drive from dealer to dealer within their geographic districts.

As his plan would entail elimination of the work performed by auto dealer service representatives, supervisors, and administrators, McGaw sought permission to lay off those employees. The layoff would be based "upon the material change in duties, organization, and a resultant lack of work" for employees within the Auto Dealer Services Division. The layoff package itself included a list of the certified employees within the division to be laid off, documentation of their years of continuous service, performance evaluations, the written justification for the layoffs, and organizational charts depicting the current makeup of the division. The package denoted all employees within this organizational unit as subject to layoff.

Acting Director of Personnel Rolando approved the layoff plan on November 2, 1984. Four days later, the affected employees were given written notice of a layoff effective at the close of the business day November 30, 1984, due to a "material change in duties/organization and a resulting lack of work."

On November 21, 1984, plaintiffs filed their individual appeals of the layoff-reorganization plan before the State of Illinois Merit Commission. In their pleadings, plaintiffs noted the establishment of 19 new positions within the newly created Financial Institutions Service Division of the Secretary's office. These additional employees, designated financial institutions field representatives (FIFRs), were hired in this capacity just prior to the notice of the plaintiffs' layoff. The duties and functions of the FIFRs, plaintiffs complained, included some of the responsibilities performed by them as auto dealer service representatives. The plaintiffs believed they should at least have been offered reassignment to those positions in advance of their layoffs. They further alleged the employees hired within the Financial Institutions Service Division were either "personal friends" of the Secretary or belonged to the same political party as the Secretary. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, were active in a different political party. In sum, plaintiffs alleged their rights to reemployment were "knowingly destroyed" by the overall scheme and by the failure to provide them with proper reemployment opportunities.

The appeals were consolidated before the Commission. By letter dated March 13, 1986, the Executive Secretary of the Commission, upon a review of the pleadings, layoff plans, and personnel rosters submitted, identified three specific material issues of fact to be resolved:

"(1) What duties were actually being performed by Petitioner at and/or immediately prior to the layoff;

(2) What has been done with those duties since the layoff; and

(3) Were non-Merit factors the primary consideration for the layoff?"

The hearings began on May 24, 1985, and ran intermittently through July 12, 1985. At one point during the hearings, plaintiffs attempted to introduce evidence of 15 original applications for employment submitted by the eventual hirees in the Financial Institutions Services Division, complaining that copies actually submitted to the hearing officer contained "numerous and substantial changes, modifications, and deletions." The hearing officer, however, did not allow these original applications to be considered as evidence.

Plaintiffs also sought to introduce the certified voter registration records of the applicants indicating they were all members of the Republican party. Additionally, plaintiffs submitted for consideration lists of Republican party officials compiled by the State Board of Elections for 1984-85 which showed some of the hirees held party positions within their respective counties. Plaintiffs charged such evidence was relevant because these employees belonged to the same political party as the Secretary, Assistant Secretary of State Allen Grosboll (who implemented the layoff plan), and Acting Director of Personnel Rolando. The hearing officer, while accepting this evidence as an offer of proof, nevertheless refused to admit it. The hearing officer essentially denied all inquiry into the method of filling those positions until plaintiffs could establish some legal right or entitlement to them.

Plaintiffs on June 7, 1985, presented a motion to reconsider the hearing officer's prior ruling against inquiry into the method of hiring for the 19 new positions. Plaintiffs also argued the statement of issues tendered by the Executive Secretary of the Commission was too limited, asserting it would be appropriate to inquire into the motive of the Secretary's office in designing the layoff plan while new positions were concurrently established in a different division. The hearing officer apparently denied that motion orally on July 1, 1985.

Much of the plaintiffs' testimony is repetitive. A basic outline of their duties and responsibilities may be gleaned from the record.

Plaintiffs were each assigned a certain geographic region, usually comprised of several counties, in which they would act as field representatives. In this capacity, they would visit driver's license facilities, car dealerships, financial institutions, auto rebuilders and wreckers. They would personally deliver license plates, vehicle stickers, and other forms. Some of their work also involved delivery ...

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