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05/02/94 CARTER COAL COMPANY v. ILLINOIS HUMAN

May 2, 1994

CARTER COAL COMPANY, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
ILLINOIS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION AND JACK OWENS, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.



Petition for review of orders of the Illinois Human Rights Commission. No. 1985SF0424.

Chapman, Goldenhersh, Welch

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chapman

JUSTICE CHAPMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

"State blacklisting laws, enacted largely between 1887 and 1930, were among the first efforts to outlaw retaliatory refusals to hire. These statutes were enacted in about half of the states because employers, in an effort to quash labor organization, created and circulated lists of pro-union workers to prevent them from gaining employment. In reaction, states limited the employer's right to hire and fire at will by prohibiting blacklisting." Rothstein, Wrongful Refusal To Hire: Attacking the Other Half of the Employment-At-Will Rule, 24 Conn.L.Rev. 97, 110 (1991).

The principal issue in this case is whether an employer can retaliate against a prospective employee because that employee has filed an age-discrimination charge against a previous employer. We hold it cannot.

Carter Coal Company petitions this court for review of the order of the Illinois Human Rights Commission which denied its petition for rehearing and the order and decision of the Commission which affirmed, in part, the September 18, 1989, recommended order and decision of the administrative law Judge. The administrative law Judge found in favor of Jack Owens and against Carter Coal Company (Carter Coal) on Owens' complaint of a civil rights violation. The complaint charged that Carter Coal had discharged Owens in retaliation for filing a previous charge of age and handicap discrimination against a former employer. We affirm the orders of the Commission.

On April 4, 1985, Jack Owens filed a charge of discrimination with the Department of Human Rights against Carter Coal Company and Freeman United Coal Mining Company. The claimed charge was that Carter Coal discriminated against him on the basis of age, a perceived physical handicap, and in retaliation for his charge of discrimination against a former employer, Freeman United Coal Mining Company (Freeman United). Owens alleged that the action against Freeman United was pending on January 18, 1985, when Harry Williamson, the president of Carter Coal Company, told complainant that he was hired for the position of belt boss at the company. The complainant further alleged that Peter Helmer, an agent of Carter Coal, contacted Owens that evening at home and asked complainant if he had a lawsuit pending against Freeman United. Owens alleged that he replied affirmatively and that on the following day Mr. Williamson telephoned and told complainant thathe was not hiring him because he did not need a belt boss. Owens alleged that he contacted Mr. Helmer on the evening of January 19, 1985, and was told by Helmer that Williamson had been advised of complainant's discrimination suit against Freeman United and that Williamson would not hire complainant due to that lawsuit. An investigation by the Illinois Department of Human Rights followed.

On August 7, 1987, the Illinois Department of Human Rights filed a complaint which alleged that Owens had filed a charge of discrimination against Freeman United Coal Mining Company on or about April 1, 1984. The complaint further alleged that Carter Coal retaliated against Owens in January 1985 by failing to hire him because he had filed a charge of discrimination against his former employer, in violation of section 6-101(A) of the Illinois Human Rights Act. (775 ILCS 5/6-101(A) (West 1992).) Carter Coal's motion to dismiss the complaint contended that even if it had failed to hire Owens because he had filed a charge of discrimination against a former employer, such conduct would not constitute an act of retaliation within the meaning of section 6-101(A) of the Illinois Human Rights Act. The administrative law Judge denied Carter Coal's motion to dismiss, and the matter was set for hearing.

The administrative law Judge (ALJ) issued an interim recommended order and decision which sustained Owens' claim that Carter Coal retaliated against him because he had filed the previous charge of discrimination against Freeman United. The ALJ found that the complainant was hired on January 18, 1985, and was terminated by Williamson that same day:

"The evidence supports a finding that Complainant was hired. It is undisputed that Complainant filed an application with Respondent after Respondent sent a letter requesting him to do so. Also, it is undisputed that Complainant was requested by Respondent to take a pre-employment physical examination with Dr. Gene Stolar, and that Complainant had the examination.

Further, the parties agree that Complainant was interviewed on the morning of January 18, 1985, by Williamson. Complainant testified credibly that during his interview, Williamson wrote down numbers off his mining papers. Additionally, Williamson explained to Complainant his duties, discussed salary and gave Complainant a benefit package which contained, among other things, the salary schedule, company rules and regulations, savings plan, pension plan, travel and accident insurance and the medical plan. Complainant testified further that Williamson shook his hands and welcomed him aboard. Williamson also told Complainant that Helmer would tell him when to report to work and that tax forms should be completed on his first day. Thetotality of Williamson's actions certainly establishes that Complainant was hired for a position at Respondent's mine."

The ALJ found that these facts established a prima facie case of retaliation.

Carter Coal sought review before the Commission and argued that the ALJ's findings that complainant had been hired on January 18, 1985, and that Carter Coal retaliated by firing complainant that same day were against the manifest weight of the evidence.

On May 22, 1991, the Commission modified the ALJ's award of damages and reinstatement but affirmed the ALJ's determination that Carter Coal retaliated against complainant under section 6-101(A) of the Act. The Commission did not base its ruling on a finding that Carter Coal had hired complainant and then fired him when it found out about the claim against the former employer. The Commission ruled that Owens was denied the job because he had filed a previous charge of discrimination against a former employer and because it was reasonable to infer that Carter Coal did not hire complainant out of a fear that complainant was more likely to file a discrimination charge against Carter Coal because he had filed the earlier claim against Freeman United. Carter Coal's petition for rehearing before the full commission was denied by the Commission, and Carter Coal appealed.

Carter Coal's appeal proceeds on two points. First, Carter Coal argues that only section 2-102 of the Illinois Human Rights Act (Act) (775 ILCS 5/2-102 (West 1992)) covers civil rights violations for failure to hire. Carter Coal's second point is that retaliation for the bringing of a charge or complaint against a former employer is not included as a civil rights violation under section 6-101(A) of the Act.

Turning to the first point, section 2-102 provides that it is a civil rights violation:

"(a) For any employer to refuse to hire, to segregate, or to act with respect to recruitment, hiring, promotion, renewal of employment, selection for training or apprenticeship, discharge, discipline, tenure or terms, privileges or conditions of employment on the basis of unlawful discrimination." (775 ILCS 5/2-102 (West 1992).)

The Act defines unlawful discrimination as "discrimination against a person because of his or her race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, marital status, handicap, or unfavorable discharge from military service as those terms are defined in this Section." (775 ILCS 5/1-103(q) (West 1992).) The Act further provides:

"(a) Nothing contained in this Act shall prohibit an employer, employment agency or labor organization from:

(1) Hiring or selecting between persons for bona fide occupational qualifications or any reason except those civil-rights violations specifically identified in this Article. " (Emphasis added.) (775 ILCS 5/2-104(a)(1) (West 1992).)

Carter Coal contends that nothing in the relevant provisions of article 2 outlined above prohibits an employer from refusing to hire a person because the applicant has filed a charge against a former employer. Although we might agree with Carter Coal's construction of article 2, the language of a statute must be reviewed as a whole; each section must be examined in relation to every other section. ( Scadron v. City of Des Plaines (1992), 153 Ill. 2d 164, 185, 606 N.E.2d 1154, 1163, 180 Ill. Dec. 77.) A more complete review of the Act reveals that additional civil rights violations are found in article 6 of the Act. Article 6 of the Act, entitled "Additional Civil Rights Violations," sets forth the civil rights violations of retaliation, aiding and abetting, coercion, and interference. Therefore, article 6, section 6-101, of the Act must be examined to determine if it prohibits an employer from refusing to hire a person on the basis that the applicant has filed a charge against a former employer.

Carter Coal contends that the failure to hire a person who has previously filed a charge of discrimination against a former employer is not a violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act. The Company further argues that the finding that it failed to hire complainant because of a fear that he was likely to file a discrimination charge against respondent is against the manifest weight of the evidence. The scope of review of the Commission's decision is limited by section 8-111(A)(2) of the Act, which mandates that "in any proceeding brought for judicial review, the Commission's findings of fact shall be sustained unless the court determines that such findings are contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence." (775 ILCS 5/8-111(A)(2) (West 1992).) Carter Coal's first argument, however, involves our review of the Commission's interpretation of section 6-101(A) and other relevant provisions of the Illinois Human Rights Act. Interpretation of the relevant statutory provisions is a question of law, and the manifest weight of the evidence standard does not apply to findings of an administrative agency where the question presented is one of law. ( Callahan v. Department of State Police (1991), 223 Ill. App. 3d 1081, 1085, 586 N.E.2d 381, 384, 166 Ill. Dec. 423.) Deference is accorded to an agency's interpretation of law in fact situations which have been dealt with in a line of cases over a long period of time and in which the agency's interpretation has been subject to ...


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