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09/22/88 American Federation of v. the State of Illinois

September 22, 1988






529 N.E.2d 534, 124 Ill. 2d 246, 124 Ill. Dec. 553 1988.IL.1415

Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Richard L. Curry, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE RYAN delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE STAMOS took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.


Plaintiff, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO , brought this action in the circuit court of Cook County to enforce the arbitration award pursuant to the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 48, pars. 1608, 1616) and section 11 of the Illinois Uniform Arbitration Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 10, par. 111). The defendants, the State of Illinois Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, and Michael A. Belletire, its director, and the Department of Central Management Services and its director, Michael E. Tristano, sought to vacate the award based on public policy considerations and because the arbitrator allegedly exceeded his authority in reducing the discipline imposed on two employees by the Department of Mental Health from discharge to suspension and reinstatement. After both parties moved for summary judgment, the circuit court granted judgment for the Department of Mental Health and vacated the arbitration award, finding that it was inconsistent with the public policy of Illinois. The appellate court reversed. (158 Ill. App. 3d 584.) We granted the defendants' petition for leave to appeal. (107 Ill. 2d R. 315.) The Illinois Education Association-NEA was granted leave to file an amicus curiae brief. (107 Ill. 2d R. 345.) We affirm the appellate court.

The facts of this case, as determined by the arbitrator, are not in dispute. The grievants in the arbitration proceeding were two discharged mental health technicians, employed by the Department of Mental Health at the Howe Developmental Center to provide care and supervision for the residents. The Howe Developmental Center is a State mental health facility that provides care and treatment for the profoundly mentally retarded. The residents at Howe have chronological ages ranging from 25 to 65; however, the average I.Q. of the residents is 10. Accordingly, each resident requires assistance in performing basic daily living functions.

On April 28, 1985, the Howe Developmental Center was short-staffed. Despite this fact, the grievants were authorized to go to the Jewel Food Store to buy food for an impromptu barbecue to be held for the residents that afternoon. The grievants spent approximately 30 minutes shopping at the Jewel Food Store for the barbecue. Instead of returning directly to the Center, however, the grievants made an unauthorized trip to a flea market for another hour and fifteen minutes. During their absence, a male resident in the south wing (grievants had been assigned to the female wing) died. The resident had been tied to a toilet seat with the back of a wheelchair placed in front of him. He fell forward from his tied position on the toilet, and his neck came to rest on the back of the wheelchair. This was found to be the cause of death. Although another mental health technician was aware that the resident had been tied to the toilet, his death occurred while he was left unattended. Pursuant to the rules and regulations of the Department of Mental Health and the policy of the Howe Developmental Center, the grievants were discharged for conduct constituting mistreatment of a service recipient.

The union, AFSCME, pursuant to the parties' collective-bargaining agreement, filed a grievance challenging the discharge of the two grievants. When the parties were unable to settle the grievance, the union submitted the matter to arbitration. The parties stipulated the issue before the arbitrator: "Were the grievants discharged for just cause? If not, what is the remedy?"

The arbitrator's finding upheld the grievance but he reduced the grievants' discipline from discharges to four-month suspensions and ordered reinstatement, without back pay or any other benefits. The arbitrator found that the grievants were guilty of mistreatment of a service recipient because they left their worksite while in pay status and while the facility was "short-staffed" and that they failed to notify their supervisor or receive permission to visit the flea market. However, the arbitrator specifically found that there was no direct link between the grievants' unauthorized absence and the resident's death. Although the arbitrator found that the grievants' conduct constituted mistreatment of a service recipient, he held the conduct did not constitute "just cause" for discharge because of mitigating factors. The arbitrator based his finding that there was no "just cause" for discharge on his consideration of five criteria: (1) agreement by the parties that both grievants had been exemplary employees; (2) the grievants had treated residents of the facility as though they were "family"; (3) the admission of wrongdoing by the grievants and their expression of remorse; (4) the grievants' straightforward and truthful testimony at the arbitration hearing; (5) the arbitrator's "conviction that these grievants are able to return to the useful employ of the Employer and provide appropriate services to the residents without the likelihood of a repetition of the occurrences of April 28, 1985."

AFSCME, the union, brought an action in the circuit court to confirm the award under the Illinois Uniform Arbitration Act. The Department of Mental Health responded by seeking to set aside the award. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the circuit court held for the Department of Mental Health. The trial court found the analysis and Conclusions of the arbitrator absurd and beyond comprehension. Further, the trial court found no authority in the collective-bargaining agreement for the arbitrator to consider mitigating circumstances in reducing the penalty from discharge to suspension. The arbitration award, according to the trial court, had to be vacated because it represented a severe and extreme departure from the public policy of Illinois, which is to protect not to endanger mental patients. The appellate court reversed, finding that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority in considering mitigating factors because the collective-bargaining agreement did not define "just cause." Having determined that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority, the appellate court concluded that the award did not violate public policy because the grievants were suspended for four months without back pay or benefits. 158 Ill. App. 3d at 593. I

The Department of Mental Health asserts that Illinois public policy prohibits the reinstatement of a mental health technician found to have mistreated the profoundly retarded. Because the grievants were employed by public entities entrusted with the responsibility of caring for the profoundly retarded, the Department contends that this case takes on broader policy considerations. The Department relies on Board of Trustees of Community College District No. 508 v. Cook County College Teachers Union (1979), 74 Ill. 2d 412, 423-24, in contending that the arbitration award to reinstate the employees contravenes public policy considerations of paramount importance and must therefore be set aside. Alternatively, the Department submits that the arbitrator exceeded his authority under the terms of the collective-bargaining agreement. We will deal first with the alternative argument.

The Department challenges the authority of the arbitrator to reduce a discharge to a suspension on two grounds. First, it contends that the arbitrator usurped the management function of defining "levels of service or quality" in reducing the discharge to suspension. Second, the Department asserts that the arbitrator exceeded his authority when he considered mitigating factors, after ...

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