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Illinois Department of Corrections v. Illinois Human Rights Commission

July 31, 1998

ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
ILLINOIS HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION AND CLAUDIA GREEN, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Homer

IN THE APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS THIRD DISTRICT A.D., 1998

Petition for Review of the Decision of the Illinois Human Rights Commission

Charge No. 1989CN1672

ALS No. 7800

The Illinois Department of Corrections discharged Claudia Green after determining that she was unable to perform the essential functions of her position as correctional sergeant due to a shoulder injury and that there was no accommodation available for her. On Green's behalf, the Illinois Department of Human Rights filed a complaint for handicap discrimination against the Department of Corrections. The Human Rights Commission adopted, in toto, the findings and decision of the administrative law Judge in favor of Green. The Department of Corrections appeals.

FACTS

Claudia Green began working for the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) in 1978 and eventually attained the position of correctional sergeant. As a member of the DOC's security staff at the Joliet Correctional Center (the Center), Green's job requirements included annual firearms requalification with a handgun, rifle and shotgun. In August 1985, Green successfully requalified with a handgun and rifle. However, while shooting the shotgun, her right shoulder was injured when she slipped and was struck by the recoil.

Green took a leave of absence and underwent three surgical procedures on her shoulder and arm between August 1985 and January 1988. According to her testimony, she returned to work for approximately one month in April 1988, and worked as a dispatcher in the Center's armory. After reinjuring her shoulder during physical therapy, Green had to take leave again and underwent more surgery.

On July 19, 1988, Green was released to return to work with certain restrictions which included avoiding heavy lifting away from her body and refraining from firing a shotgun from her right shoulder. Green did not resume working at that time because the DOC instigated disciplinary proceedings against her alleging that she was in violation of several of its administrative directives. The DOC contended that Green should be discharged because she was unable to return to work with a full medical release and unable to perform her duties as a correctional sergeant, namely, satisfy the firearms requalification.

At her pre-disciplinary hearing in July 1988, Green's union representative stated that Green believed that she could return to work with the limitation of not handling weapons. Bruce Burger, the executive assistant to the warden, served as the hearing officer and was charged with the duty to make a recommendation regarding Green's discipline to the chief administrative officer. After reviewing the charges, statements and other evidence, Burger recommended that Green be discharged because she was permanently disabled.

Burger testified during the administrative review proceedings that his recommendation was based upon, inter alia, the return to work policy set forth in the DOC administrative directives. At the time, these directives provided that an employee may only return to work with restrictions if the restrictions are "temporary in nature and limited to a specific period of time not to exceed 90 days, after which the employee is expected to return to work on a full-time basis with no restrictions." Similarly, its policy statement with respect to employees with medical restrictions provided:

"An employee who has been on a medical leave of absence or an extended sick leave must obtain a full medical release prior to being allowed to return to work unless permission to return to work with limited restrictions has been granted by the Deputy Director of the appropriate division or bureau. However, no employee shall be allowed to return to work with restrictions where long term recuperation (in excess of 90 days) is involved or where the return to work may contribute to reoccurrence of the medical condition."

After receiving notice of the recommendation to discharge, Green's attorney filed a written request with the DOC for handicap accommodation in accordance with the Illinois Human Rights Act (the Act) (775 ILCS 5/1--101 et seq. (West 1996)). Green requested that her handicap be accommodated and that she be reinstated to her position as correctional sergeant. She also implied that she would welcome alternative placement in another position that did not require the handling of weapons. This request for accommodation was reviewed by Janet Richmond, the Administrator of the DOC's Office of Affirmative Action. Richmond considered Green's eligibility in light of her injury for two positions, correctional sergeant and correctional clerk. After studying the issue, Richmond determined that Green could not be accommodated because she could not perform the essential duties of either position. Thereafter, Green was discharged.

The Illinois Department of Human Rights (Department) then instigated the instant complaint for handicap discrimination under section 5/7A--102 of the Act (775 ILCS 5/7A--102 (West 1996)). A public hearing was held after which the administrative law Judge made, inter alia, the following findings: (1) Green had made a prima facie case of handicap discrimination; (2) DOC articulated a legitimate reason for its actions; and (3) Green proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the DOC's articulated reason was a pretext for unlawful discrimination. The Judge noted that it was a stipulated fact that Green could perform every duty of a correctional sergeant, except for firing a shotgun while resting the butt against her right shoulder. Also, the Judge determined that the DOC made no effort to meet with Green before deciding that no ...


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