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12/21/94 GEORGE HAWKINS v. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT

December 21, 1994

GEORGE HAWKINS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY, AN ADMINISTRATIVE AGENCY IN THE STATE OF ILLINOIS; DIRECTOR OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY: BOARD OF REVIEW AND PACE SUBURBAN BUS DIVISION OF THE RTA, EMPLOYER, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Marilyn R. Komosa, Judge Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Cerda delivered the opinion of the court: Rizzi, J., and Greiman, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cerda

JUSTICE CERDA delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, George Hawkins, filed a complaint for administrative review seeking to reverse a decision by the Board of Review of the Department of Employment Security (Board) that he was ineligible to receive benefits because he left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to the employer. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 48, par. 431(A) (now codified as 820 ILCS 405/601(A) (West 1992)).) The circuit court affirmed the Board's decision, and the plaintiff has appealed, contending that the Board's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence and contrary to the law.

Plaintiff was employed as a bus driver for Pace Suburban Bus Division of the RTA (employer) for 14 years. In March of 1990, Pace informed its bus drivers that new Federal regulations required them to obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL) no later than April 1, 1992. A memorandum posted on March 14, 1990, stated that study materials were available from the employer, that the examination fee was $40 and that employees were allowed three attempts to pass the test.

Two months before the deadline, the employer posted a memorandum reminding bus drivers who had not yet obtained a CDL that this was a mandatory Federal requirement and that no extensions would be granted. Other postings informed drivers of test locations, facility hours and free test preparation classes.

On March 17, 1992, the employer sent plaintiff a letter stating that he was required by law to have a CDL by April 1, 1992, and that failure to obtain it would result in termination. The letter referred to a previous letter reminding him of the requirement. On April 2, 1992, plaintiff was informed that his employment was terminated because he failed to obtain a CDL.

Plaintiff filed a claim for unemployment insurance benefits, which the employer protested. The claim was denied, and the denial was affirmed upon reconsideration. Plaintiff then requested a hearing.

At the hearing, plaintiff testified that he earned $14.50 per hour as a bus driver. He stated that he first took the CDL examination on March 23, 1992, eight days before the deadline, and did not pass. Although he was aware of the requirement for two years prior to the deadline, he did not take the test earlier because it was difficult, expensive, administered at inconvenient locations and the employer would not give him a day off to take the test. He stated that although the test was administered at locations in Chicago, it was not given at the license facility closest to his home and that he would have had to travel 15 or 20 miles on public transportation. Plaintiff acknowledged that he worked five days a week and received three weeks of vacation each year with an additional two floating holidays. He stated that he passed the CDL test on his third attempt on April 28, 1992.

The employer's representative testified that only 7 or 8 employees out of the 1,000 Pace employees subject to the requirement failed to obtain the CDL by April 1, 1992. The test was given at several locations in Chicago and the suburbs, and training sessions were available through the employer and the union. Plaintiff did not attend the training sessions.

The hearing referee affirmed the denial of benefits, finding that:

"Workers whose occupations require annual or periodic renewal of licenses in order to maintain their employment have the responsibility of maintaining current validity of such license, and a failure to maintain a license that results in a loss of employment constitutes a voluntary leaving attributable to the employee and is disqualifying under section 601(A) of the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act."

The Board affirmed the decision of the referee, and the circuit court affirmed the decision of the Board. Plaintiff has appealed, contending that the Board's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence and contrary to law.

The purpose of the Unemployment Insurance Act (Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 48, par. 300 et seq. (now codified as 820 ILCS 405/100 et seq. (West 1992)), is to provide monetary benefits to persons who become involuntarily unemployed. ( Nichols v. Department of Employment Security (1991), 218 Ill. App. 3d 803, 809, 578 N.E.2d 1121, 161 Ill. Dec. 475.) Its provisions are to be liberally construed. ( Davis v. Board of Review (1984), 125 Ill. App. 3d 67, 72, 465 N.E.2d 576, 80 Ill. Dec. 464.) The Board is the trier of fact, and our function on review is to determine whether its fact findings are supported by the manifest weight of the evidence. ( Jackson v. Board of Review ...


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