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May 19, 1994


Heiple, Nickels, Freeman

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Heiple

JUSTICE HEIPLE delivered the opinion of the court:

At issue in this case is whether the Illinois Department of Human Rights (the Department) has jurisdiction to hear a complaint alleging racial discrimination in an academic program at a public university. We conclude that it does not.

Plaintiffs, the Board of Trustees (the Board) of Southern Illinois University (SIU) and certain of SIU's employees, David White, Jim Bramlet, Richard Moy and Terry Travis, were granted a writ of prohibition by the circuit court of Jackson County to prevent defendants, the Department, its director, Joyce E. Tucker, and two of its investigators, Freddie Gatewood and Stanley R. Moen, from pursuing certain charges against plaintiffs. Plaintiffs had been charged with unlawful discrimination in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act (the Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 68, par. 1-101 et seq.). The circuit court determined that the Department did not have statutory jurisdiction to investigate the charges because the alleged discrimination occurred in the context of the SIU's academic programs. A divided appellate court reversed (228 Ill. App. 3d 367), and we granted plaintiffs' petition for leave to appeal (134 Ill. 2d R. 315). We now reverse the appellate court's ruling.

The facts which gave rise to this appeal began when two black SIU students, Kevin Mitchell and Marsha Stokes, filed charges with the Department alleging that plaintiffs had discriminated against them based on their race or sex in violation of the Act. Mitchell charged that Terry Travis, the director of psychiatry clerkship at SIU's school of medicine, and Richard Moy, the dean of the medical school, unlawfully discriminated against him when he was dismissed from the medical school after his third year. He claimed he was treated differently than nonblack and female classmates in the way he was evaluated. Mitchell also alleged that he was denied the same opportunities to retake final examinations and for clerkships, and that Travis demonstrated a racial bias which harmed the evaluation of Mitchell's clerkship at his dismissal hearing.


Stokes alleged that she was the only black student in the commercial graphics program at SIU. She claimed that David White, Jim Bramlet, and the Board were guilty of unlawful racial discrimination by sanctioning the existence of a racially hostile classroom environment. Stokes alleged that the other white students were allowed to harass and threaten her and to subject her to racial epithets. Further, she was suspended from class without advance notice, which was usually provided to other students.

The Department served copies of the charges on the plaintiffs. SIU filed a response on behalf of all the plaintiffs, in which it opined that the Department lacked jurisdiction "to entertain allegations of racial discrimination in academic programs."

The Department informed SIU that it intended to assert jurisdiction over the charges. Plaintiffs then filed a petition for a writ of prohibition to block the Department from proceeding further. The circuit court of Jackson County subsequently entered a default judgment for plaintiffs which permanently enjoined the Department from taking any additional action with regard to the charges. The appellate court reversed the default judgment and remanded the cause to the circuit court for consideration on the merits. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University v. Department of Human Rights (1989), 190 Ill. App. 3d 644, 137 Ill. Dec. 926, 546 N.E.2d 1039.

On remand, plaintiffs filed an amended petition for writ of prohibition. Although similar to the initial petition, the amended petition added a request to block the Department from conducting any and all proceedings in the matter of an unlawful discrimination claim filed by another black SIU student, Michael Scruggs. Scruggs claimed that the Board unlawfully discriminated against him by grading and testing him differently than white students, resulting in the denial of his admission to a Ph.D. program.

The amended petition was decided on cross-motions for summary judgment, as there were no disputed facts. The only question was the legal issue of whether the Department had jurisdiction to pursue the discrimination charges where the challenged conduct occurred in the context of SIU's academic programs. The circuit court held that the Department had no such jurisdiction and granted the writ of prohibition.

A split appellate court reversed the circuit court's decision and remanded the cause. (228 Ill. App. 3d 367.) The majority of the appellate court concluded that it did not matter whether SIU was considered a place of public accommodation within the context of its academic programs because section 5-102(C) of the Act, which prohibits discrimination by a public official, does not require that such discrimination occur within a place of public accommodation. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 68, par. 5-102(C).


"An administrative agency * * * has no greater powers than those conferred upon it by the legislative enactment creating it. " ( Village of Lombard v. Pollution Control Board (1977), 66 Ill. 2d 503, 506, 6 Ill. Dec. 867, 363 N.E.2d 814.) Thus, our inquiry is whether the General Assembly gave the Department jurisdiction to hear this case.

There are but two sections of the Act which could arguably give rise to a claim of jurisdiction for the Department over the conduct alleged: section 5-102(A) or section 5-102(C) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 68, ...

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