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November 7, 1997



Rehearing Denied December 3, 1997. Rehearing Denied December 4, 1997. Released for Publication December 24, 1997.

The Honorable Justice Hoffman delivered the opinion of the court. Hartman, P.j., and Hourihane, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hoffman

The Honorable Justice HOFFMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

This appeal arises out of a decision of the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission) finding that petitioner, Christ Hospital, discriminated against respondent, Charles Hughes, in denying Hughes a promotion. Christ Hospital argues that the Commission (1) made a determination that was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence; (2) applied an incorrect legal standard; and (3) awarded damages that were unsupported by the evidence.

Hughes, who is black, was hired by the hospital in early June 1980, as a third-shift housekeeping supervisor. On April 12, 1984, he filed a petition with the Department of Human Rights alleging that the hospital had discriminated against him based upon his race. The Department subsequently brought a complaint before the Commission alleging that, beginning in October of 1983, the hospital had subjected Hughes to unequal terms and conditions of employment, by mandating that he sign in and out while not requiring the same of similarly-situated non-black managers; giving him an unfounded poor performance evaluation; demoting him for no apparent reason; and by denying him a promotion to quality control officer.

After a hearing, the administrative law judge (ALJ) concluded that the hospital had racially discriminated against Hughes in denying him the promotion to quality control officer. The ALJ found insufficient evidence to support Hughes's remaining claims. The hospital filed exceptions to the finding of discrimination, and the Commission affirmed the ALJ's decision. This appeal followed.

The evidence supporting the ALJ's finding of discrimination is summarized below. At the time Hughes was hired, his immediate supervisor was Kevin Darling, the head of housekeeping. At all times relevant, Coletta Neuens was the hospital's associate administrator and Kevin Scanlan was the director of human resources, who reported to Neuens. Part of Neuens's responsibilities were to oversee the housekeeping administrators. She also had the ultimate authority over any decisions regarding Hughes's employment.

When he began at the hospital, Hughes's duties included shining floors, delivering linens and removing garbage. In December of 1982, Hughes was promoted to housekeeping operations manager. In that position, he was required to travel between three facilities to supervise housekeeping employees: the hospital itself, its corporate offices in Oak Brook, and Bethany Hospital, which was owned and operated by the hospital. Hughes was reimbursed for his travel to and from these facilities.

In late 1983, the hospital commenced an investigation into alleged irregularities in the housekeeping department. Scanlan, who took part in the investigation along with Neuens, testified that they had received reports regarding petty cash fund irregularities, the submission of excessive travel expense reports, and the alleged use of hospital employees and supplies to clean locations not owned by the hospital. The investigation initially focused on Darling but later was expanded to include Hughes and another housekeeping operations manager, Thomas Walsh. Darling and Walsh, both of whom were white, were suspended without pay during the investigation based upon suspicion of petty cash irregularities. Darling's duties were temporarily assumed by assistant administrator Charles Jones. Hughes remained at work during the investigation.

The investigation inquired into claims that Hughes had submitted falsified mileage reports for his trips to Bethany, and that he was working for another employer during the hours he was supposedly working for the hospital. In late fall 1983, Jones notified Scanlan that the investigation had disclosed that Hughes was overpaid more than $500 in travel expenses, and that he had furnished the hospital with a social security number that was different than that given to his prior employer. When confronted with the overpayment, Hughes acknowledged responsibility and made restitution to the hospital. According to Hughes, he had been instructed by Darling to take indirect routes to the other sites due to construction on the main routes.

In December of 1983, Jones gave Hughes a poor performance evaluation, and one month later, while the investigation remained pending, Jones wrote Scanlan expressing his lack of confidence in Hughes based on the investigation. Jones recommended to Neuens that Hughes and Walsh be terminated based upon "their performance as managers in connection with their involvement" in the matters under investigation. Neuens rejected the recommendation, finding it unwarranted under the hospital's human resources and personnel policies.

The investigation ultimately revealed insufficient evidence against Hughes to warrant termination or other disciplinary action. In addition, Hughes contested his December 1983 evaluation, and after an objective review of the matter, Neuens determined that the evaluation should be changed to reflect competent performance. Hughes was given a salary increase and full retroactive pay.

In early 1984, the hospital reorganized several of its departments, including housekeeping. A plan was devised calling for the elimination of the operations manager positions held by Hughes and Walsh, and the creation of a new position, that of quality control officer. Effective May 13, 1984, Hughes ...

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