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02/24/88 General Motors Parts v. the Industrial Commission

February 24, 1988





522 N.E.2d 1260, 168 Ill. App. 3d 678, 119 Ill. Dec. 401 1988.IL.254

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Alexander White, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE McCULLOUGH delivered the opinion of the court. BARRY, P.J., and McNAMARA, WOODWARD, and CALVO, JJ., concur.


Respondent appeals from an order of the Industrial Commission (Commission) which awarded benefits to claimant for a psychological injury suffered after his supervisor verbally assaulted him with profane, racial slurs. Claimant maintains he suffers from debilitating depression because of the insult to which he perceives he has been subjected. At issue is whether claimant established he suffers from a compensable psychic injury.

The facts are largely undisputed. Claimant graduated from high school in approximately 1940. He served in the infantry from 1943 to 1949, and received a battlefield commission to staff sergeant during the war. He was hired by the respondent in 1966 as a "picker-packer." This job required the processing of orders by selecting parts from inventory, matching them against computer cards, and packing them in a box for shipment.

At the hearing before the arbitrator claimant testified that in April of 1977 his wife was hospitalized. He asked the personnel director, John Price, if he could change from the second to first shift so he could be with his wife during the evening hours to administer medication. Price refused the request because it was not in conformity with company policy. Claimant testified he made a second similar request in June of 1977 which was again denied.

On August 17, 1977, claimant approached his foreman, Bill Pretner, about the issue. Pretner talked to Price and later told claimant Price again refused the requested shift change because Price did not want to "open up a keg of nails."

The following day, as claimant came on duty, he encountered Price in the area of the time clock at the entrance to the respondent's facility. A number of other workers also coming on duty or leaving after the first shift were in the area. Claimant and Price are both black. Claimant testified he approached Price and asked him, allegedly in nonbelligerent tones, what he meant by not wanting "to open up a keg of nails." According to claimant, Price became outraged, responding with a highly charged invective punctuated by obscene and racial remarks. Price then ordered claimant into Price's office along with foreman Pretner, who was nearby. A security guard at the plant entrance asked Price to control himself and Price apologized to the security guard. When Price entered his office with claimant in tow, Price kicked over several chairs. When claimant asked Price why he was being cursed, Price ordered claimant back to work on the threat of being fired.

Claimant testified he left the office, punched in, and went to work. After the incident claimant stated he felt "real bad" and "less than a man" to let another man do that to him. He worked his shift without incident, however. After his shift ended he bought a bottle of Chivas Regal at 7 a.m., drank half of it during the day, and took the remainder to work with him. Prior to the incident, claimant maintained he was a moderate drinker, imbibing only on weekends or on occasion when he and his wife went out to dinner.

After working his complete shift the following day, a Friday, he purchased another fifth of Chivas Regal, which he promptly drank. He continued drinking over the weekend and remained at home crying.

When he returned to work on Monday he discovered he was wearing the same clothes he had worn on Friday. During the days and months that followed, claimant maintained he was ridiculed by co-workers, who laughed and poked fun at him for his failure to stand up to Price. During that same period claimant stated his drinking increased to a point at which he was consuming 1 1/2 fifths of Chivas Regal every 24 hours. This behavior continued for several years.

Claimant continued to work his regular shift until February 3, 1978, when he was injured falling down a flight of steps at his niece's home. Following that incident he never returned to work. He was admitted to Loretto Hospital on March 5, 1978, where he remained for five days for treatment of injuries to his back, leg, and neck stemming from the fall.

In November of 1978, claimant began treatment with a psychiatrist, Dr. Gaynor, at Loyola Hospital. Claimant testified he had great difficulty sleeping and was told by his personal physician in May of 1978 to seek psychiatric help. He nevertheless waited until November of that year to make his first appointment. Claimant saw Gaynor every two weeks until November of 1979 when he moved to Georgia. He continued treatment in Georgia under the care of a different psychiatrist. Over the course of treatment claimant indicated he began to feel better and eventually stopped drinking heavily. He continues to take two separate medications relating to depression and two other medications for high blood pressure. According to claimant his condition has rendered him unable to do anything other than help with household chores. Claimant's memory is fuzzy and he forgets details. He cannot concentrate because he constantly thinks about the incident with Price. He dreams about it and believes he has been done a grievous wrong.

On cross-examination claimant acknowledged that shift transfers were made on a rotation basis and because he had turned down one transfer opportunity he was not eligible ...

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