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12/15/88 Kraft, Inc., Dairy Group, v. the City of Peoria Et Al.

December 15, 1988





531 N.E.2d 1106, 177 Ill. App. 3d 197, 126 Ill. Dec. 479 1988.IL.1819

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. Robert E. Manning, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE NASH delivered the opinion of the court. REINHARD and UNVERZAGT, JJ., concur.


Defendants, Jimmie Young, the City of Peoria, and the City of Peoria Fair Employment and Housing Commission (Commission), appeal from a judgment of the circuit court finding that the Commission lacked jurisdiction to act on a complaint filed by Jimmie Young against plaintiff, Kraft, Inc., Dairy Group (Kraft), because the action was preempted by Federal labor law. Alternatively, the trial court found that the Commission's decision that Jimmie Young was discharged from his employment with Kraft because of race discrimination was against the manifest weight of the evidence, and defendants also appeal from that judgment.

Young had worked in Kraft's sanitation department since May 1980 sweeping and washing floors, scrubbing walls, and washing the tanks that were used in the manufacture of Kraft's ice cream. In the fall of 1984, when Kraft experienced its regular, cyclical downturn in business, Young was transferred from the third to the second shift, and his duties were changed to also include the flavoring of ice cream. Young received four days' training, and after performing his new duties for about three weeks, Young, while performing his sanitation duties, hooked up a tank which contained 2,000 gallons of ice cream mix to a wash line which ran caustic cleaning solution into the tank. Ice cream valued at $28,000 to $32,000 was destroyed, and Young received a three-day suspension; when he returned to work, he was discharged.

Young was a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs and Helpers, Local Union No. 627, which had a collective bargaining agreement in effect with Kraft. The agreement contained a nondiscrimination clause and further provided that an employee could be suspended or discharged for just cause if the employee had received a written warning notice within the prior nine months. Young had received a warning letter within nine months of the incident which prompted his discharge for a thumb injury he had received when distracted while talking to another employee, Mike Ciaccio. Young lost work time because of this injury. Ciaccio did not receive a warning letter. The warning letter issued to Young for his thumb accident noted that this injury was the third reportable accident Young had in an eight-month period; two of the accidents occurred in 1983 and the other in 1984. On November 6, 1984, pursuant to procedures contained in the collective bargaining agreement, Young filed a grievance with Kraft "protesting my unjust discharge." Because Kraft, Young, and Young's union representative were unable to resolve his grievance, a joint conference committee hearing was held. On January 9, 1985, the committee, which consisted of three union representatives and three employer representatives, two of whom were unconnected with Kraft but were representatives of employers who had a similar collective bargaining agreement in effect with the union, denied Young's grievance. That decision, pursuant to provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, was final and binding on the parties.

On November 8, 1984, while the grievance procedure was in process, Young filed a complaint with the Office of Equal Opportunity of the City of Peoria alleging that his discharge was racially motivated. Subsequently, that office filed a complaint with the City of Peoria Fair Employment and Housing Commission alleging that Kraft had discharged Young on account of his race in contravention of a Peoria city ordinance proscribing employment discrimination because of race.

The following evidence was presented to a hearing board designated by the Commission relative to Young's race discrimination claim based on his alleged disparate treatment from that accorded to other employees who were white. The first instance involved John Dempsey (white) and what the parties have described as the "hot well" incident. In September 1984, Dempsey was instructed to put remix into a vat. When he lifted the lid on the vat, it hit a valve which caused a liquid to enter the vat. While drinkable water would ordinarily first pour into the tank, Dempsey believed that the liquid was a caustic solution. He informed his supervisor, who tasted the remix, decided that the remix did not contain caustic solution, and instructed Dempsey to continue putting remix into the vat. However, a quality control inspector later decided to dispose of the approximately 40 to 50 gallons of remix in the vat. Dempsey did not receive a warning letter for this incident but, if he had, it would have been his second warning notice within a nine-month period. Neal Cargill, a union steward, testified that had the valve been properly tightened, caustic solution would not have run into the vat. Eugene Judd, operations manager, testified that it was the sanitation employee on duty, and not Dempsey, who was responsible to make sure that the valve was properly tightened, and Dempsey testified likewise.

Defendants introduced into evidence a copy of a "verbal warning" notice to Mike Ciaccio (white) dated September 1983, which stated that since his recall from layoff on March 2, 1983, he had three recordable accidents. A warning letter issued to Neal Cargill (white) in November 1983 was also introduced into evidence. It related to a mistake in mixing and referred to a similar incident which had occurred in August 1983 for which Cargill had received a verbal warning.

Eugene Judd, Kraft's operations manager, testified that in 1983 Kraft had the most lost time and recordable accidents in the dairy group. In early 1984, he had instituted a policy change requiring warning letters for all lost-time accidents relating to job negligence. Apparently, Kraft had been lax about issuing warning letters and Judd believed the policy change was necessary to reduce job-related accidents. Neal Cargill and Young also testified that there had been a company change regarding the issuance of warning letters, with Young stating that it was within the last couple of years that Kraft started issuing warning letters. Cargill testified that in the past Kraft would give a verbal warning and, after an employee received two or three warnings, he would receive time off. Recently, Kraft's new procedure was to issue a warning letter and, if the employee received a subsequent letter, the employee might be discharged.

The hearing board found that Young had established a prima facie case of discrimination because the evidence showed that Young was black; that he was discharged for conduct which similarly situated white employees had engaged in, but for which they did not receive commensurate disciplinary action; and that Young was replaced by a white person. The board further found that Kraft had failed to articulate nondiscriminatory reasons for its disparate treatment of Young and concluded that the sole reason for the disparate treatment was that Young was black. The Commission adopted the findings and Conclusions of the hearing board and ordered Kraft to reinstate Young, with back pay, to his previous job position with all seniority rights and fringe benefits denied as a result of Kraft's alleged discrimination.

Thereafter, Kraft filed a complaint in the circuit court of Peoria County seeking review of the Commission's decision by common law writ of certiorari. (See, e.g., Quinlan & Tyson, Inc. v. City of Evanston (1975), 25 Ill. App. 3d 879, 883, 324 N.E.2d 65.) The court reversed the decision of the Commission, finding that the Commission lacked jurisdiction to consider the complaint on the ground that Federal law preempted labor/management disputes, and, ...

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