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08/09/88 Freeman United Coal Mining v. the Human Rights

August 9, 1988





527 N.E.2d 1289, 173 Ill. App. 3d 965, 123 Ill. Dec. 514 1988.IL.1240

Petition for review of order of Human Rights Commission.


JUSTICE WELCH delivered the opinion of the court. HARRISON, P.J., and LEWIS, J., concur.


Petitioner, Freeman United Coal Mining Company (hereinafter Freeman), appeals from a decision of the Human Rights Commission finding that complainant, Sotero Agoot, had established a prima facie case of national origin discrimination and that Freeman's articulated nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Agoot's employment was pretextual. We reverse the decision of the Human Rights Commission for the reason that its finding of pretext is against the manifest weight of the evidence.

Sotero Agoot, born and raised in Hawaii, is of Japanese-Philippino ancestry. He is officially classified as an Asian-Pacific Islander. After graduation from high school, Agoot entered the military service, where he was trained as an electronic technician and electronic technician instructor. He first became employed by Freeman United Coal Mining Company on January 8, 1971, as an underground repairman at Freeman's Orient No. 3 underground coal mine near Waltonville, Illinois. As such, he was responsible for maintaining and repairing all the electric components of Freeman's underground equipment. He remained an underground repairman for three years, when he became a "top" electrician. As a top electrician, he was responsible for the maintenance and repair of Freeman's aboveground electrical equipment.

In May 1976, Agoot was promoted to the position of maintenance foreman, a salaried supervisory position. In order to be employed as a maintenance foreman, Agoot was required to obtain certain State and Federal certificates. Agoot not only had the three required certificates, but also obtained two additional certificates. There is no question that Agoot was highly technically qualified for the position of maintenance foreman.

Agoot also served for a time as a maintenance foreman shift leader. As such, he was responsible for supervising not only the 20 hourly employees on the shift, but also the other 12 maintenance foremen on his shift. Agoot was a shift leader from the spring of 1979 until approximately January 1982.

Adverse market conditions caused a reduction in force at Orient No. 3 mine in March 1982, and the mine was permanently closed in December 1982. As part of the March reduction in force, 10 of approximately 24 maintenance foremen at Orient No. 3 were laid off. Agoot was among those laid off. Of those laid off, Agoot was the only minority member. Of those retained in March 1982, one minority member, Don Cruz (Hispanic), was retained. Also employed at Orient No. 3 as assistant to the mine supervisor was David Weaver, an Asian-Pacific Islander. Agoot, Cruz and Weaver were the only salaried minority employees at Orient No. 3 in March 1982.

Agoot's immediate supervisor at Orient No. 3 was Dennis Robbins, the assistant maintenance chief at No. 2 portal. (Orient No. 3 had two operating portals, each of which had its own assistant maintenance chief and maintenance staffs.) Robbins' supervisor was Ralph Shockley, maintenance chief of the entire mine. Shockley's supervisor was Kenneth Barker, maintenance superintendent for all Freeman underground mines. George Higgins, mine superintendent of Orient No. 3, had supervisory responsibility for all personnel working at the Orient No. 3 mine.

According to Agoot's supervisors, Agoot had continuing and serious problems complying with certain company policies. In 1979, Freeman instituted a new preventive maintenance program designed to eliminate or reduce costly "down time" for machinery. This program was very important to Freeman. A meeting was held with all the maintenance foremen and the preventive maintenance program was explained to them in detail. Pursuant to the program, maintenance foremen were responsible for conducting regular maintenance checks on machinery and keeping regular records of the preventive maintenance work done. The records were turned in on a weekly basis by the foremen to maintenance chief Ralph Shockley.

Also in 1979, as part of the preventive maintenance program, a "call-out" procedure was instituted. This required all underground maintenance foremen to call in their location in the mine every hour so that the maintenance crew nearest to a breakdown could be quickly and easily located. It was also used to prevent some maintenance foremen from making themselves "unavailable" when a breakdown occurred.

Ralph Shockley described Agoot as very competent in his technical abilities. However, Agoot had trouble complying with the preventive maintenance program. Agoot did not regularly turn in his weekly records of maintenance checks, and those that were turned in were incomplete or unsatisfactory. Agoot also failed to comply with the call-out procedure. Shockley spoke with Agoot on at least two occasions with respect to his deficiencies in this area. Shockley did not find it necessary to have these types of Discussions with every other maintenance foreman, and Agoot's compliance with the preventive maintenance program was worse than some of the other ...

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