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04/13/88 Michael P. Cohen, v. the Civil Service

April 13, 1988





523 N.E.2d 122, 168 Ill. App. 3d 994, 119 Ill. Dec. 654 1988.IL.520

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Sophia H. Hall, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE McNAMARA delivered the opinion of the court. WHITE, P.J., and RIZZI, J., concur.


Plaintiff Michael Cohen filed for administrative review with the Illinois Civil Service Commission (Commission) after he was laid off from his position with the Illinois Department of Employment Security . The Commission upheld his termination. Plaintiff's complaint named as defendants the Commission, IDES, and the Illinois Central Management Services. The trial court upheld the Commission's ruling and plaintiff appeals.

Plaintiff was employed by IDES as a hearings supervisor. He began his service with this agency as a hearings referee in 1972 and was promoted to hearings supervisor in 1979. Both positions held by plaintiff were within the benefit appeals division of the agency. As the result of a decreased agency budget, plaintiff was officially laid off on May 31, 1986.

Plaintiff appealed his termination to the Commission on June 5, 1986. In a letter to the executive secretary of the Commission, plaintiff stated that he had been laid off in contravention of section 8b.13 of the Personnel Code, which provides that in determining who should be laid off, for layoffs by reason of lack of funds or work, consideration must be given to one's performance record, seniority, and the impact on achieving equal employment opportunity goals. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 127, par. 63b.108b.13.) Plaintiff contended that seniority was not taken into consideration in light of the fact that he had more seniority than at least two other hearings supervisors in the appeals division.

On December 4, 1986, Gail Bradshaw, manager of human resource management for IDES, responded to plaintiff's challenge stating that it was the position of IDES that plaintiff was laid off in accordance with the provisions of the Personnel Code. Bradshaw stated in a letter to the executive secretary of the Commission that the hearings supervisors less senior to plaintiff were in different and separate units of the organization within the appeals division and that the layoff plan was implemented by the units of organization in seniority order of the positions targeted. Bradshaw further stated that plaintiff's unit, the "suburban unit," operated as an official and separate entity within the organization of the appeals division with specific responsibilities different from those of the other units of the organization. Bradshaw also stated that the supervisory position in plaintiff's unit of the organization was subjected to layoff due to a decrease in the workload of that unit.

On December 31, 1986, the executive secretary of the Commission notified plaintiff of its proposed decision that there had not been a violation of the Personnel Code or rules. The secretary asserted that plaintiff's layoff was in accordance with section 302.520 of the Illinois Administrative Code, which states that "an indeterminate layoff shall be within organizational units justified by operations and approved prior to the layoff by the Director" of the Department of Central Management Services. (80 Ill. Adm. Code 302.520(a) (1985).) In support of this Conclusion, the secretary noted that organizational charts supplied by IDES demonstrated the suburban unit's placement within IDES' operational

Plaintiff responded to the proposed Disposition of the Commission stating that whether the suburban unit constituted a subsection of the appeals division was a question of law or fact entitling him to a hearing. Plaintiff included in his response two letters from previous employees of IDES. In a letter dated January 5, 1987, John Sachtleben identified four units within the appeals division, one being the suburban unit. Sachtleben noted that the referees and supervisors were not locked into a permanent assignment and each could perform work for the various units. He specifically stated that plaintiff had performed work in the other units. Plaintiff also submitted a letter from Henry Warshell, a former IDES technical advisor. Warshell stated that the job description and specifications for the position of supervisor were the same for all of the supervisors regardless of their being in a particular unit. Warshell noted that the chief hearings referee had the ability to transfer the supervisors to other units if the need arose.

The secretary of the Commission requested Bradshaw to reply to plaintiff's contentions to help resolve the issues of the appeal. Bradshaw responded by reiterating IDES' position that the suburban unit was an official organizational unit with the appeals division and therefore a properly designated unit targeted for layoff. Bradshaw noted that prior to September 1, 1985, the suburban unit referees conducted hearings four days a week in suburban areas and spent one day a week in the central office. After September 1, 1985, in an attempt to save money, the suburban unit was assigned to conduct all hearings in the central office. Bradshaw maintained that regardless of this location change, the suburban unit remained intact and the suburban unit referees continued to report to plaintiff.

On March 19, 1987, the Commission adopted the findings of its staff and denied plaintiff's appeal. The trial court denied plaintiff's petition for administrative review, finding that the Commission's denial of his appeal was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.

On appeal, plaintiff and defendants agree that an administrative agency's findings concerning factual questions are prima facie true and correct. Plaintiff asserts that the present case presents a question of law. We agree. The facts here are undisputed and what remains at issue is whether the suburban unit constituted an organizational unit ...

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