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Matson v. Dept. of Human Rights

June 15, 2001

VICTORIA M. MATSON, PETITIONER,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND AMERITECH, RESPONDENTS.



Petition for review of order of Chief Legal Counsel of Department of Human Rights. Charge No. 1998CF2193

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Rapp

Petitioner, Victoria M. Matson, filed a charge of handicap discrimination with respondent Illinois Department of Human Rights (the Department) against her employer, respondent Ameritech. The Department issued a notice of dismissal with respect to five of petitioner's nine counts, finding a lack of substantial evidence. At the same time, the Department issued a notice of substantial evidence with respect to petitioner's four other counts. The chief legal counsel of the Department affirmed the dismissal of the five counts, and petitioner seeks review of that order. On appeal, petitioner contends (1) that the dismissal of petitioner's claims was against the manifest weight of the evidence, arbitrary and capricious, and included abuses of discretion; and (2) that the Department's policies and procedures violated petitioner's due process rights. For the reasons set forth below, we dismiss the appeal.

I. BACKGROUND

In her discrimination charge filed with the Department on March 4, 1998, petitioner alleged that she was handicapped within the meaning of section 1--103(I) of the Illinois Human Rights Act (the Act) (775 ILCS 5/1--103(I) (West 1998)) due to trigeminal neuralgia, a painful nerve disorder. Petitioner alleged that her employer, Ameritech, discriminated against her due to her handicap in the following ways: (A) removed her from the position of marketing support specialist (MSS); (B) failed to promote her to the position of MSS; (C) denied her formal training for the MSS position; (D) harassed her; (E) applied unequal terms of employment to her; (F) failed to accommodate her handicap by denying her intermittent family and medical leave status; (G) denied her a day off due to serious distress; (H) denied her sick pay; and (I) failed to accommodate her handicap by granting her a late starting time. Ameritech filed a verified response to petitioner's charge, denying the allegations of handicap discrimination.

The Department investigated petitioner's charge, and the investigator submitted a report to the Director of the Department. Based on the investigator's report, the Director filed a notice of substantial evidence as to counts B, D, E, and I. The Director also filed a notice of dismissal of counts A, C, F, G, and H due to a lack of substantial evidence. On December 22, 1999, petitioner filed a request for review of the Director's dismissal of counts A, C, F, G, and H by the chief legal counsel (775 ILCS 5/7--101.1 (West 1998)). On February 15, 2000, the Department filed a formal complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission), alleging counts B, D, E, and I.

On July 17, 2000, the chief legal counsel sustained the Department's dismissal of counts A, C, F, G, and H. Petitioner filed a timely petition for direct review of the chief counsel's order (775 ILCS 5/8--111(A)(1) (West 1998)).

II. DISCUSSION

The Act provides a comprehensive scheme to "secure for all individuals within Illinois the freedom from discrimination *** because of *** race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, physical or mental handicap, military status, or unfavorable discharge from military service in connection with employment, real estate transactions, access to financial credit, and the availability of public accommodations." 775 ILCS 5/1--102(A) (West 1998). The Act creates a uniform procedure for the enforcement of its substantive provisions. Baker v. Miller, 159 Ill. 2d 249, 254 (1994). A brief review of the initial stages of the administrative process is relevant.

First, the complainant files a charge of discrimination with the Department. 775 ILCS 5/7A--102(A)(1) (West 1998). Next, the Department conducts a full investigation of the allegations set forth in the charge. 775 ILCS 5/7A--102(C)(1) (West 1998). Once the investigation is complete, the Department investigator submits a written report to the Department Director. 775 ILCS 5/7A--102(D)(1) (West 1998). Based on the report, the Director determines whether there is "substantial evidence" that a civil rights violation has been committed. 775 ILCS 5/7A--102(D)(2) (West 1998).

If the Director finds substantial evidence of a violation, the Department attempts to conciliate the charge. 775 ILCS 5/7A--102(D)(2)(b) (West 1998). If that attempt fails, the Department files a formal complaint with the Commission, where the claim is adjudicated before an administrative law judge in a formal hearing. 775 ILCS 5/7A--102(F)(1), (F)(2) (West 1998). On the other hand, if the Director finds no substantial evidence, and therefore dismisses the charge, the complainant may file a request for review by the Department's chief legal counsel. 775 ILCS 5/7--101.1 (West 1998).

When this appeal was originally briefed, petitioner asserted that this court had jurisdiction to review the order of the chief legal counsel pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 335 (155 Ill. 2d R. 335) and section 8--111(A)(1) of the Act (775 ILCS 5/8--111(A)(1) (West 1998)). Ameritech and the Department did not dispute this court's jurisdiction.

The order appealed from dismissed some but not all of petitioner's claims. The claims that were not dismissed were filed with the Commission. In light of our duty to dismiss an appeal where jurisdiction is lacking (see Sho-Deen, Inc. v. Michel, 263 Ill. App. 3d 288, 290 (1994)), we ordered the parties to brief the issue of whether Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (155 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)) applies to this appeal and, if so, whether this court has jurisdiction to review the chief legal counsel's order. This is an issue of first impression in this state. Petitioner and the Department argue that Rule 304(a) is inapplicable to this appeal and therefore this court has jurisdiction to review the chief legal counsel's order. Ameritech argues that Rule 304(a) applies and therefore jurisdiction is lacking. We agree with Ameritech.

Section 7--101.1 of the Act provides in pertinent part, "Any final order entered by the Chief Legal Counsel under this Section is appealable in accordance with paragraph (A)(1) of Section 8--111." 775 ILCS 5/7--101.1 (West 1998). Section 8-111(A)(1) of the Act states:

"Any complainant or respondent may apply for and obtain judicial review of any final order entered under this Act by filing a petition for review in the Appellate Court within 35 days from the date that a copy of the decision sought to be reviewed was served upon the ...


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