Appeal from the Illinois Local Labor Relations Board Nos. L CA 95 017 L CA 95 018 Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 94 CH 8235 Honorable Ronald C. Riley, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Quinn
This case is brought on appeal from an order of the Illinois Local Labor Relations Board (Labor Board) finding that petitioners, the County of Cook and the sheriff of Cook County, breached their duty to bargain in good faith in violation of sections 10(a)(1) and 10(a)(4) of the Illinois Local Labor Relations Act (Labor Act) (5 ILCS 315/10 (West 1996)) by filing complaints before the Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board seeking to decertify 31 deputy sheriffs and correctional officers employed in the Cook County sheriff's office.
On appeal, petitioners contend that: (1) they did not violate sections 10(a)(1) and 10(a)(4) of the Labor Act by refusing to bargain with Local Teamsters Union No. 714; (2) they did not breach their duty to bargain in violation of sections 10(a)(1) and 10(a)(4) of the Labor Act by refusing to relinquish confidential information; (3) the Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board's decision to discharge Lonnie Yancy was not unreasonable, arbitrary or unrelated to the requirements of service; (4) the Labor Board acted beyond the scope of its authority in ordering costs and attorney fees against petitioners; and (5) they did not engage in frivolous litigation and therefore should not be sanctioned under section 11(c) of the Labor Act (5 ILCS 315/11(c) (West 1996)).
For the following reasons, we reverse.
The pertinent facts are as follows. In 1992, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the United States Department of Justice conducted an extensive investigation into alleged fraud and corruption in the Cook County sheriff's office (Sheriff's Office) during the tenure of the former Cook County sheriff. The investigation revealed widespread corruption in the hiring process and led to the federal indictment of 11 employees of the Sheriff's Office and the Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board (Merit Board). The 11 employees pleaded guilty to falsifying the test scores of various applicants on the certification examination for appointment to the positions of correctional officer and deputy sheriff. Following the indictment and guilty pleas of the 11 employees, the current sheriff of Cook County conducted an investigation and review to determine which employees, if any, held jobs as a result of these corrupt practices. The sheriff's investigation revealed that numerous employees apparently received their positions as a result of these practices, which fall into two categories: (1) certification of employees through altered test scores, in which employees were assigned a passing score on their certification examination despite their failure to achieve a passing score; and (2) certification of employees despite their failure to meet the minimum educational requirements for the positions as set forth in the Merit Board rules and regulations.
Following the investigation, petitioners began the process of discharging numerous employees who apparently had received their positions through corrupt practices and filed complaints with the Merit Board seeking to discharge 30 correctional officers and deputy sheriffs who the Sheriff's Office alleged were illegally certified. The complaints alleged that 30 certified employees had correctly answered less than the minimum number of questions required to achieve a passing score on the test and that these certifications were, therefore, void ab initio.
In September 1994 the Teamsters Local Union No. 714 (Local 714), the bargaining representative for deputy sheriffs and correctional officers, demanded that petitioners bargain with them regarding the decision to decertify employees who allegedly obtained their positions fraudulently. Local 714 also demanded that petitioners provide it with a list of all employees whom they intended to discharge. Petitioners refused both requests based on their position that the matter of decertification was exclusively within the authority of the Merit Board and that the requested information was confidential. Local 714 then filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Labor Board alleging that petitioners refused to bargain and provide information in violation of sections 10(a)(1) and 10(a)(4) of the Labor Act.
On administrative review, the administrative law Judge found that petitioners violated sections 10(a)(1) and 10(a)(4) of the Labor Act by refusing to bargain with Local 714 before proceeding to revoke the certifications and appointments of the 31 employees and discharging them. The administrative law Judge further found that petitioners violated these sections of the Labor Act by refusing to allow Local 714 access to the information it requested that was relevant and necessary for the performance of the union's duties. The employees were awarded costs and attorney fees for the cost of defending the action and sanctions were imposed against petitioners for engaging in frivolous litigation.
Petitioners filed exceptions to the administrative law Judge's recommended decision with the Labor Board. Upon review, the Labor Board adopted the decision in its entirety. Petitioners appeal the Labor Board's decision.
Initially, it should be pointed out that, contrary to the findings of the administrative law Judge and the Labor Board, 30 of the sheriff's employees before this court have not had a hearing before the Merit Board and have not been discharged. Plaintiff, Lonnie Yancy (Yancy), 1 of the 31 individuals named in the petitioners' complaint, was discharged by the Merit Board after a full hearing. At the hearing, it was established that Yancy's Merit Board application and personal history questionnaire stated that he did not graduate from high school or possess a general equivalency diploma (GED). However, Yancy's personnel file contained a GED certificate dated January 12, 1990. The parties stipulated that according to the director of the GED program, there was no record of either Yancy or his certificate. Yancy also admitted at the hearing that he did not graduate from high school or possess a GED at the time he submitted an application for employment with the Merit Board.
Subsequently, the Merit Board found that Yancy's application for employment and certification were void ab initio because he failed to meet the minimum qualifications for eligibility as prescribed by the Merit Board's rules and regulations. Specifically, Yancy lacked a high school diploma or certification of equivalent formal education at the time he applied for the position of correctional officer. Subsequently, Yancy sought administrative review of the Merit Board decision before the circuit court. The circuit court reversed the sanction of discharge and remanded the case to the Merit Board with directions to impose a penalty less than discharge. In accordance with the circuit court's order, the Merit Board imposed a sanction of suspension for 180 days, with time considered served. This sanction effectively reinstated Yancy to his position as a correctional officer. The circuit court issued an order affirming the Merit Board's imposition of suspension, from which petitioners appeal.
Petitioners first contend that the Labor Board's finding that they failed to comply with sections 10(a)(1) and 10(a)(4) of the Labor Act was against the manifest weight of the evidence. A decision of an administrative agency is said to be contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence only when, after reviewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the administrative agency, the court determines that no rational trier of fact could have agreed with the agency's decision. Chief Judge of the Circuit Court v. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, Council 31, 153 Ill. 2d 508, 514, 607 N.E.2d 182 (1992). The agency's findings of fact are presumed to be prima facie true and correct. American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Council 31, 153 Ill. 2d at 514. A reviewing court is not bound by administrative decisions interpreting the legal effect of statutory language but will accord substantial deference to the interpretation of a statute by the agency charged with its administration. Strube v. Pollution Control Board, 242 Ill. App. 3d 822, 826, 610 N.E.2d 717 (1993). Although deference is shown, a court of review cannot allow an erroneous Conclusion of law to stand. Bethania Ass'n v. Jackson, 262 Ill. App. 3d 773, 776, 635 N.E.2d 671 (1994).
Petitioners argue that they did not violate sections 10(a)(1) and 10(a)(4) of the Labor Act by refusing to bargain with Local 714 because the Merit Board has the sole authority to void illegal certifications and appointments and, therefore, decertification is not a mandatory subject of bargaining. Respondents maintain that, pursuant to sections 10(a)(1) and 10(a)(4) of the Labor Act, the decertification of employees affects the terms and conditions of employment, which is a mandatory subject of collective bargaining.Administrative agencies such as the Merit Board exercise purely statutory powers and possess no inherent or common law powers. O'Grady v. Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board, 260 Ill. App. 3d 529, 534, 632 N.E. 2d 87 (1994). Any power claimed by the administrative agency must find its source within the provisions of the statute by which the agency was created. O'Grady, 260 Ill. App. 3d at 534. An express grant of power to an administrative body or officer includes the authority to do all that is reasonably necessary to execute that power or to perform the duty specifically conferred. O'Grady, 260 Ill. App. 3d at 534.
Section 10 of the Labor Act states in pertinent part:
"(a) [i]t shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer or its agents:"
"(1) to interfere with, restrain or coerce public employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in this Act or to dominate or interfere with the formation, existence or administration of any labor organization or contribute financial or other support to it; provided, an employer shall not be prohibited from ...