Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County. No. 92MR183. Honorable Donald M. Cadagin, Judge Presiding.
Released for Publication February 8, 1996. As Corrected August 9, 1996.
Honorable James A. Knecht, J., Honorable Robert J. Steigmann, J., Honorable Rita B. Garman, J. Concurring
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Knecht
The Honorable Justice KNECHT delivered the opinion of the court:
Plaintiff, a veteran, appeals the circuit court decision to affirm the Civil Service Commission (Commission). The sole issue raised on appeal is whether section 8b.7(f) of the Personnel Code (Code) (20 ILCS 415/8b.7(f) (West 1992)) gives veterans an absolute preference over nonveterans of the same job grade. We find the statute does grant veterans an absolute preference and reverse.
Stephen L. Denton is an honorably discharged veteran of the United States Army. On June 12, 1991, he applied for an Executive IV position with the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS). CMS gave him a grade of "A" for the position, the highest grade possible. It also placed his name, with the "A" grade, on an eligibility list requested by the State Police. A nonveteran with a grade of "A," and who was judged to have qualifications superior to all other applicants, was hired.
Plaintiff believed the decision to hire a nonveteran instead of him when he was qualified for the position violated his rights. He wrote to the Commission in November 1991, alleging a violation of "Personnel Rules, 80 Illinois Administrative Code, Chapter 1, Section 302.30 c) 3)." This rule states "if category ratings are used, the veteran eligibles in each category shall be preferred for appointment before the nonveteran eligibles in the same category." (80 Ill. Adm. Code § 302.30(c)(3), at 99 (1992-93), amended at 19 Ill. Reg. 8145, eff. June 7, 1995 (identical language now at 80 Ill. Adm. Code § 302.30(d)).) It is part of a program designed to satisfy section 8b.7 of the Code. 20 ILCS 415/8b.7 (West 1992).
On April 17, the Commission staff sent Denton a letter stating in part:
"Rule 302.30 c) 3) has been interpreted to permit an agency to bypass a veteran only when the qualifications of the non-veteran eligible are superior to the bypassed veteran eligibles. We conclude that this is the case herein.
Having found no violation of the Personnel Code or Rules, it is the intention of the staff to recommend to the Commission at its meeting on May 13, 1992[,] that your appeal be denied. *** If adopted by the Commission, this will become a final administrative decision."
On May 8, Denton replied, stating his letter was to "serve as my response to your April 17, 1992[,] letter regarding my appeal and complaint of violation of the Personnel Code, Chapter 127 63b108b.7. of the Illinois Rev. Statutes." The statute Denton refers to is now section 8b.7 of the Code. (See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 127, par. 63b108b.7.) On May 14, 1992, the Commission adopted its staff's findings.
Denton then filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Sangamon County on June 17, 1992. On February 9, 1995, the circuit court, in what it observed to be a case of first impression in Illinois, concluded the preference granted by "Section 1 of the Veterans Preference Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 126 ...