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Caterpillar, Inc. v. Department of Employment Security

May 15, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kendall County. No. 98--MR--12 Honorable Thomas E. Hogan, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

Plaintiff, Caterpillar Incorporated (Caterpillar), appeals from a judgment of the circuit court affirming the decision of the Illinois Department of Employment Security Board of Review (Board), which granted claimant Terry Logan's claim for unemployment benefits. On appeal, Caterpillar contends that Logan was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he was discharged for misconduct connected with his work. We reverse.

Logan began working for Caterpillar in 1973 and was fired on or about August 12, 1997. After a claims adjudicator found that the claimant was eligible for unemployment benefits, Caterpillar appealed. A hearing on this appeal ensued before a referee of the Department of Employment Security. The following evidence was presented before the hearing referee.

Wendy Watta, formerly Vosberg, a Caterpillar power train design engineer, testified that during 1996 and early 1997 she and Logan had a romantic relationship. She stated that, after 1½ years, she broke up with Logan at the end of March 1997. They remained friends, and, in fact, Watta last slept with Logan as late as May 31, 1997.

Watta testified that, on June 1, 1997, she asked Logan for the keys to her house and her garage door opener and told Logan "point blank" not to call her or stop by. Logan did not return the requested items, so Watta had the locks of her house changed and tried to change the security device on her garage door.

Watta stated that throughout June and July 1997 Logan harassed Watta, both at home and at work, attempting to convince Watta to come back to him. At work, Logan repeatedly called her, stopped by her desk, and e-mailed her. Watta stated that at home, Logan repeatedly stopped by, waited in his car for her to return home, and left cards in her mailbox. When Watta would tell Logan that she did not want to discuss their relationship, Logan would begin talking about work. Logan also called Watta at work twice pretending to be someone else. Logan did not identity himself, but Watta recognized his voice. Subsequently, Watta returned home and found Logan sitting in his car in her driveway. Logan told Watta that he had been waiting for her for four hours and was upset because he wanted to put a welcome banner up in her garage but that she had locked the garage. Watta's neighbor, a police officer, spoke with Logan about the incident.

Watta testified that she also received in the mail a copy of a card and letter she had sent to Eric Rueschhoff, Watta's new boyfriend, who lived in Peoria. Watta also received an address book that had been in Rueschhoff's home. Rueschhoff had previously reported to the police that his home had been burglarized and listed these items as missing. Watta concluded that Logan had broken into Rueschhoff's home and sent the items to her. Watta became concerned that Logan had broken into her home as well.

Watta testified that Logan also tried to break into a long distance call Watta was on because he could not get through to her. He continued to call and leave messages. Watta explained that she returned his calls because she had to work with him at Caterpillar.

Watta stated that on July 10, 1997, she left a letter on Logan's desk stating that she did not want to get back together with him and that he should stop calling Watta, her friends, and her family and quit stopping by her desk and home. On that same day, she spoke with Bill Abrogast, Caterpillar personnel services manager, and told him about Logan's conduct.

Watta stated that Logan's conduct caused her to become so frightened for her safety that she moved out of her house for three weeks and had an alarm system installed in her home. Further, Logan's conduct made it difficult for Watta to work because she was always looking over her shoulder and it was difficult to answer the phone for fear that it would be Logan harassing her. Throughout the months of June and July, Logan had repeatedly threatened to ruin Watta's reputation.

However, Watta admitted that after June 1, 1997, she spoke with Logan and sent him e-mails to try to get her belongings back. Also, she admitted that on June 25, 1997, she and Logan had dinner together and stopped by a park to talk about how to keep on friendly but not romantic terms at work. She explained that she had dinner with him even though he was harassing her at work because she had to continue working with him.

Watta testified that on July 21, 1997, she told the police that she would be going out of town the following day and that she was concerned about Logan's conduct. The next day at 4 a.m., the police found Logan in Watta's garage. They had been watching Watta's home because the burglar alarm had gone off earlier that morning, triggered by a cat.

Watta stated that on July 25, 1997, she gave a detailed statement to Rita Knapp, a Caterpillar security investigator, regarding Logan's conduct. On July 29, 1997, Watta gave the police a statement regarding Logan's conduct. On or about August 1, 1997, Watta contacted the State's Attorney's office and sought and received an interim order of protection against Logan on August 11, 1997. The order prohibited Logan from any contact with Watta including phone, e-mail, and ground mail. However, according to Watta, Logan contacted her even after the order of protection was issued. On September 3, 1997, a two-year order of protection was issued against Logan.

Logan testified that it was common for other Caterpillar employees to use the company e-mail and telephones for personal purposes but that to his knowledge no one had ever been disciplined for it before. Logan was never warned or disciplined for using Caterpillar's e-mail or phones for personal use. Further, 95% of his personal e-mails and conversations with Watta regarding their relationship occurred outside of work.

Logan believed his relationship with Watta continued throughout June and July and that they were simply trying to "resolve issues." They exchanged e-mails and spoke on the phone. In e-mails Watta sent to Logan in June, Watta wrote that she loved Logan. Logan and Watta slept together twice in June 1997. Logan stated that he and Watta had discussed marriage as late as June 1997; they had been practically living together. Logan had moved some of his belongings and his dog over to Watta's house during the 1997 Memorial Day weekend.

Watta never told Logan to stay away from her. Logan did not know that his relationship with Watta was breaking up until July 25, 1997. Logan knew that Watta spoke with Abrogast about their relationship on July 10, 1997, but Logan believed Watta did it spontaneously and out of anger. On July 2, Watta responded in an e-mail to Logan's request for a dinner date. She stated that she was too busy but perhaps could make it the next week. Also, on July 22, 1997, Watta and Logan discussed going to see a counselor for their relationship. This showed Logan that Watta was ...

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