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Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. The Human Rights Commission

September 16, 1999

WAL-MART STORES, INC., PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
V.
THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION AND CYNTHIA MCQUEARY, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES



Petition for review of order of Human Rights Commission. Charge No. 1996CF0009 ALS No. 9416

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Inglis

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

(The Department of Human Rights, Respondent).

JUSTICE INGLIS delivered the opinion of the court:

This is an action for direct administrative review of a decision of the Illinois Human Rights Commission (HRC). Respondent, Cynthia McQueary, filed a civil rights complaint against petitioner, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (Wal-Mart), alleging that Wal-Mart had discharged her on the basis of her gender in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act (Act) (775 ILCS 5/1--101 et seq. (West 1996)). Wal-Mart denied that it discriminated against her and argued that it discharged her for leaving work early. The administrative law Judge issued a recommended liability determination, and the HRC sustained the complaint, ordering Wal-Mart to reinstate McQueary and award her damages. We affirm.

McQueary worked for Wal-Mart as a night receiving associate from February 16, 1993, to June 25, 1995. During her employment with Wal-Mart, she received acceptable performance reviews and several merit pay increases. Her immediate supervisor was Scott Dierking, who reported to Paul Baird, the night shift manager. McQueary was the only female in the receiving area. She worked with 10 to 15 male employees. McQueary testified that the male employees would make derogatory remarks to her. She complained to a manager in March of 1995, but the behavior continued.

On June 22, 1995, Baird told McQueary and the other employees that a shipment of fans was to be unloaded and kept separate from other merchandise. McQueary tried to separate the fans according to her supervisor's instructions, but some of her male co-workers placed other merchandise on the fans' pallets. When she tried to stop them, they taunted her. One of her male co-workers, Israel Pena, laughed and told her to get back in the truck and called her a "little girl." This behavior made McQueary cry. Pena called her a "cry baby" and said, "We don't need that, bitch." After that, McQueary headed to the front of the store to leave work before the end of her shift.

McQueary told Baird that she was tired of the way she was being treated and explained that her male co-workers were mixing up the merchandise on the pallets. She told Baird that she was too upset to continue working that night and wished to go home. McQueary advised Baird that if the harassment did not stop she would have to consider giving her two-week notice. Baird then unlocked the door and walked McQueary to her car.

When McQueary returned to work on her next scheduled work night, Baird told her that she was terminated for leaving work without permission. McQueary's co-workers who had taunted her and mixed up the merchandise on her pallets were not disciplined in any way.

On July 3, 1994, McQueary filed a charge against Wal-Mart alleging discrimination on the basis of sex. Specifically, she alleged that her termination for leaving early was a pretext for sex discrimination. According to her, similarly situated male employees were subject to "progressive discipline" before termination and were not subject to termination for leaving their shift early. The administrative law Judge agreed with McQueary, and the HRC sustained McQueary's complaint, finding that Wal-Mart's articulated reason for terminating her was a pretext for sex discrimination because the evidence showed that it treated McQueary more severely than her male co-workers for similar misconduct and that there was no rational business reason for doing so. Wal-Mart timely appeals.

Before addressing the merits of the appeal, we note that the HRC contends that Wal-Mart's statement of facts are inaccurate and argumentative. We have reviewed Wal-Mart's statement of facts, and we now strike those portions which fail to comply with Supreme Court Rule 341(e)(6) (177 Ill. 2d R. 341(e)(6)).

When reviewing the decision of an administrative agency, the agency's factual findings are held to be prima facie true and correct. 735 ILCS 5/3--110 (West 1996). The Act provides that, upon judicial review, the HRC's findings of fact should be sustained unless they are against the manifest weight of the evidence. Raintree Health Care Center v. Illinois Human Rights Comm'n, 173 Ill. 2d 469, 479 (1996). A decision is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence only when no rational trier of fact could have agreed with the agency's decision because an opposite Conclusion is clearly evident. Clyde v. Human Rights Comm'n, 206 Ill. App. 3d 283, 290 (1990). A reviewing court may not reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the trier of fact. Zaderaka v. Illinois Human Rights Comm'n, 131 Ill. 2d 172, 180 (1989). This is particularly true of credibility determinations. Zaderaka, 131 Ill. 2d at 180.

In order to establish an employment discrimination claim, the plaintiff must first establish by a preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination. Zaderaka, 131 Ill. 2d at 178-79. If a prima facie case is established, a rebuttable presumption arises that the employer unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff. Zaderaka, 131 Ill. 2d at 179. To rebut the presumption, the employer then must articulate, not prove, a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision. Zaderaka, 131 Ill. 2d at 179. Finally, if the employer articulates a legitimate reason, the presumption of unlawful discrimination falls, and the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer's articulated reason was not its true reason but was instead a pretext for unlawful discrimination. Zaderaka, 131 Ill. 2d at 179.

To establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination, the plaintiff must prove (1) she is a member of a protected class; (2) she was performing her job satisfactorily; (3) she was discharged despite the adequacy of her work; and (4) similarly situated employees who were not members of the protected group were not ...


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