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Welch v. Hoeh

July 07, 2000

BONITA L. WELCH, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
DEBORAH S. HOEH, DESIGNEE OF THE CHIEF LEGAL COUNSEL OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS; THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS; THE APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, THIRD JUDICIAL DISTRICT; AND THE SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.



Petition for Review of an Order of the Designee of the Chief Legal Counsel of the Department of Human Rights. Charge No. 1998SA0128

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

Petitioner, Bonita L. Welch, appeals the final order of the Department of Human Rights (the Department) dismissing her charge of discrimination. We affirm.

The following uncontroverted facts are taken from the record. Prior to 1994, Welch was employed by the Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, as a law clerk to the former Justice Tobias G. Barry. On February 16, 1994, Welch began employment with the Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, as a staff attorney, at a salary of $39,464. On February 23, 1994, Welch was notified that Justice Heiple determined that all entry-level staff attorneys should start at the minimum salary. Thus, Welch's salary was reduced to $32,571, retroactive to her start date.

THE FIRST CHARGE

On August 12, 1994, while still employed as a staff attorney, Welch filed her first charge (No. 1997CA1141) with the Department of Human Rights, alleging that Justice Heiple ordered her salary lowered because she had worked for Justice Tobias G. Barry, Heiple's political opponent. Welch also alleged that the Illinois Supreme Court and the Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, discriminated against her based on her age and sex.

THE SECOND CHARGE

On August 18, 1997, Welch filed a second charge with the Department (No. 1998SA0128). However, this charge was not signed or notarized as required by section 2520.330 of the Illinois Administrative Code (56 Ill. Adm. Code §2520.330 (1996)) to perfect a charge. See 56 Ill. Adm. Code §2520.350 (1996).

On September 8, 1997, Welch filed a signed and notarized second charge along with an additional page prepared by Welch. The charge named the Illinois Supreme Court and the Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, as respondents. In this second charge, Welch made three claims. In claim one Welch alleged that she was "[s]ubject to retaliatory hostile workplace up to Feb. 24, 1997." In support of this claim Welch alleged that after she filed her first charge against the respondents she "began to incur an environment of hostility within [her] place of employment" and that this occurred "within such a time period as to raise the inference of retaliatory motivation."

In Welch's second claim, she alleged that she was "[s]ubject to work environment of retaliatory isolation up to Feb. 24, 1997." In support of this claim, Welch alleged that after she filed her first charge against the respondents she "was subject to isolation which [was] constructed by [the] respondents" and that this occurred "within such a time period as to raise the inference of retaliatory motivation." In support of this second claim, Welch alleged that between November 25, 1996, and February 24, 1997, Justice William E. Holdridge discussed settling her first charge with her and asked her not to discuss the charges with anyone else. As a result of a study of the salaries of other staff attorneys, Holdridge offered to adjust Welch's salary to that of the staff attorneys for the Appellate Court, Fourth District, retroactive to July 1, 1996. Welch accepted Holdridge's offer on February 18, 1997, but on February 24, 1997, Welch told Holdridge that she would not withdraw her first charge. In response, Holdridge immediately retracted Welch's salary increase and reset Welch's salary to the rate in effect prior to February 16, 1997. Holdridge also abandoned his efforts to adjust the salary of at least one other staff attorney.

In Welch's third claim, she alleged that she was "[s]ubject to salary retraction on or about Feb. 24, 1997." In support of this claim, Welch alleged that after she filed her first charge against the respondents she "was offered a salary adjustment which was contingent upon an overall settlement of the charges before the Il. Dept. of Human Rights" and that she declined the offer. She further alleged that the offer was retracted because she had filed the first charge and refused to withdraw it. Welch alleged that the salary retraction was, therefore, retaliatory.

On September 7, 1997, the day before Welch filed her signed and notarized second charge, she wrote a letter to the Department expressing concerns regarding how the second charge had been drafted. Welch wrote, in pertinent part:

"My concern is that Part I alleges a hostile workplace 'up to' February, 24, 1997. Since the charge was not served on respondents until more than 180 days after February 24, 1997, this charge might be time-barred. Also, there might have been some misunderstanding of the allegations *** since there was no hostility apparent in the research department prior to February 24, 1997.

Also, with respect to the isolation charge (Part II), the period that we are referring to, I believe, is November 25, 1996, to February 24, 1997, during which I was pledged to tell anyone who asked about the charges that 'it was all over.' In all other respects, I cannot honestly state that the work environment caused me to feel isolated. Also, Part II may be time-barred as well since, standing alone, it appears to allege conduct outside the 180-day period.

Although I had originally envisioned a single charge of retaliation incorporating elements of three forms of retaliation, it now appears that the only truly viable charge is Part III, which clearly alleges an ...


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