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Villalobos v. F.D.L. Foods Inc.

July 31, 1998

EDWARD VILLALOBOS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
F.D.L. FOODS, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Colwell delivered the opinion of the court:

IN THE APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS SECOND DISTRICT

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Ogle County.

No. 96--L--34

Honorable John B. Roe, Judge, Presiding.

Plaintiff, Edward Villalobos, appeals from the dismissal of his complaint in the circuit court of Ogle County. Plaintiff's complaint sought to enforce an order of the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission) that required defendant, F.D.L. Foods, Inc., to pay damages, costs, and fees to plaintiff based on plaintiff's charge of employment discrimination against defendant. The issues on appeal are whether plaintiff timely filed his charge against defendant with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (Department), and whether plaintiff timely filed his complaint with the Commission.

The record reveals the following facts. On September 23, 1992, the Department received and date-stamped a multipage document that was entitled "Illinois Department of Human Rights Employment Complaint Information Sheet" (CIS). The CIS was completed in handwriting and signed by plaintiff, but was not notarized. Plaintiff asserts that he mailed the CIS to the Department on September 21, 1992. Plaintiff supports this assertion with an affidavit that was signed by his attorney's secretary. The record contains nothing that shows when the mailing was postmarked. In the CIS, plaintiff alleged that his civil rights were violated while he was employed by defendant and that he was improperly terminated from his employment with defendant. The CIS shows that defendant terminated plaintiff's employment on March 24, 1992.

Because the CIS was not notarized, the Department deemed it to be an unperfected charge. After receiving the CIS, the Department mailed to plaintiff a typewritten formal statement of charge based on the information supplied by plaintiff in the CIS. A cover letter dated October 9, 1992, accompanied the formal statement of charge. The cover letter advised plaintiff that, if he wished to proceed with the matter, he should sign, notarize, and return the formal statement of charge to the Department by October 25, 1992.

Plaintiff signed the formal statement of charge in front of a notary on October 15, 1992. Plaintiff asserts that he mailed the signed and notarized formal statement of charge to the Department on the same date. Along with the formal statement of charge, the record contains a copy of an envelope that bears a postmark dated October 15, 1992. The envelope is date-stamped showing that it was received by the Department on October 19, 1992.

In a letter dated October 30, 1992, the Department advised plaintiff that his charge against defendant had been filed and that the Department would investigate the charge according to its procedures. The letter also contained the following:

"If the Department does not complete your case within 300 days from the date you filed your signed and notarized charge (or within any extension of that time agreed to in writing by you and the Respondent), you have the right to file your own complaint with the Human Rights Commission, starting on the 301st day (August 4, 1993) and ending on the 330th day (September 11, 1993)." (Emphasis in original.)

In a letter dated September 9, 1993, that was addressed to the Commission, plaintiff, through his attorney, requested that an enclosed complaint of civil rights violation be filed. The complaint referred to the charge that plaintiff had filed with the Department and alleged that defendant violated plaintiff's civil rights when it discharged him on March 26, 1992. Both the letter and the complaint were date-stamped showing that the Commission received them on September 14, 1993. In addition, appended to the date stamp on both the letter and the complaint is the following notation "USP 9-10-93."

On May 5, 1994, an administrative law Judge (ALJ) entered an order stating that defendant had been served with a copy of plaintiff's complaint of civil rights violation and that defendant had not answered the complaint or filed any other responsive pleading. The order granted plaintiff's motion for default and set a date for a hearing to consider the issue of damages.

In a recommended order and decision dated November 1, 1995, another ALJ recommended that the Commission enter an order in plaintiff's favor regarding his complaint. The ALJ made findings of fact that included a finding that defendant discharged plaintiff on March 26, 1992. The recommended relief included the payment of damages, attorney fees, and costs by defendant to plaintiff.

On February 9, 1996, the Commission entered an order and decision. The Commission's order affirmed and adopted the recommended order and decision of the ALJ.

On August 22, 1996, plaintiff filed a complaint in the circuit court. Plaintiff's complaint sought to enforce the terms of the Commission's order.

Defendant responded by filing a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint. Defendant asserted that the circuit court could not enforce the Commission's order because the order was void. Defendant contended that the Commissions's order was void for two reasons: (1) plaintiff had not timely filed his charge with the Department, and (2) plaintiff had not timely filed his complaint with the Commission.

The trial court granted defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint. The court based its decision on its Conclusion that plaintiff did not timely file his complaint with the Commission. Plaintiff's timely appeal followed.

On appeal, the parties raise both issues that were before the trial court, i.e., whether plaintiff timely filed his charge against defendant with the Department, and whether plaintiff timely filed his complaint with the Commission. Because either issue could be dispositive of this matter, we will address both issues.

Section 7A--102 of the Illinois Human Rights Act (Act) (775 ILCS 5/7A--102 (West 1992)) sets out the procedures for filing a charge alleging a civil rights violation based on employment discrimination with the Department and for filing a related complaint with the Commission. With ...


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