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Hoffelt v. Illinois Dep't of Human Rights

October 20, 2006

VIVIAN HOFFELT, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS, CHIEF LEGAL COUNSEL OF THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS, AND THE CITY OF CHICAGO AVIATION DEPARTMENT, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gallagher

Petition for Review of the Order of the Illinois Department of Human Rights

MODIFIED OPINION UPON DENIAL OF REHEARING

On April 25, 2005, the Illinois Department of Human Rights (the Department), through its chief legal counsel issued a final appealable order pursuant to the Illinois Human Rights Act. 775 ILCS 5/8-111(A) (West 2004). Petitioner, Vivian Hoffelt, now seeks review and reversal of that order which dismissed her charges of sex discrimination and unlawful retaliation for having complained of sexual harassment.

Petitioner began work with the City of Chicago (the City), in July 1988 as an aviation security officer at O'Hare International Airport. Beginning in late 1999, her superior officer, Sgt. Christopher Disandro, allegedly began a pattern of inappropriate conduct toward her.*fn1 On one occasion in late 2001, Disandro, referring to petitioner and another female officer, said, "I would love to have one on the face and one on the crotch." After this statement, petitioner told Disandro to leave her alone. Allegedly, Disandro began retaliation toward petitioner that negatively affected her treatment on the job and caused her to fear for her personal safety. When Disandro was suspended in August 2002 for violating the City's residency requirement, he became furious with petitioner because he suspected that she had "dropped a dime" on him. He allegedly threatened that he "knew people from the old neighborhood" and that he could have her "dropped" and that he knew people who were getting released from prison soon.

On May 1, 2003, petitioner filed a six-count charge against the City, alleging that she had been subjected to various forms of discrimination from early November 2002 until the date of filing. Each and every count alleged that she had been harassed or discriminated against by Lt. Zanders.

Count I alleged harassment from early November 2002 and continuing until the present (May 1, 2003) due to her sex, female. In this count, petitioner alleged that Lt. Zanders harassed her by referring to her and other females as "incompetents," "bottom feeders," and "inept." She further alleged that he claimed male employees wrote better reports, talked to her in a demeaning manner, and yelled at her, creating a hostile work environment.

Count II also alleged harassment from early November 2002 and continuing until the present (May 1, 2003). Count II alleged that the harassment was in retaliation for petitioner's opposing unlawful discrimination. In this count, petitioner alleged that she was harassed by Lt. Zanders, who condoned Disandro's sexual harassment of her and another employee, and again alleged that Lt. Zanders harassed her by referring to her and other females as "incompetents," "bottom feeders," and "inept," claiming that male employees wrote better reports, talking to her in a demeaning manner, and yelling at her, creating a hostile work environment. Petitioner also alleged that Lt. Zanders harassed her after she opposed unlawful discrimination (Disandro's alleged sexual harassment), thereby raising an inference of retaliatory motivation.

Count III alleged unequal terms and conditions of employment, during the same time period contained in counts I and II, due to her sex, female. She alleged that Lt. Zanders continually gave her less desirable assignments and on several occasions had denied her holiday and compensatory time pay, although it had been previously approved and/or she had documentation to justify it, forcing her to submit additional information and documents before the situation was corrected.

Count IV alleged unequal terms and conditions of employment, during the same time period contained in counts I, II, and III and repeated the same allegations as count III. The basis of count IV, however, was retaliatory motive for petitioner's opposing unlawful discrimination, namely, Disandro's alleged sexual harassment.

Counts V and VI each alleged inaccurate performance evaluation in January 2003. Count V was based upon her sex, female. Count VI alleged retaliation for opposing unlawful discrimination.

On October 15, 2004, the Department dismissed petitioner's charge for lack of substantial evidence. On April 25, 2005, the chief legal counsel upheld the dismissal for lack of substantial evidence.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The decision of the chief legal counsel to sustain dismissal of a charge should be upheld unless the decision was "arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion." Gusciara v. Lustig, 346 Ill. App. 3d 1012, 1017, 806 N.E.2d 746, 750 (2004). Agency action is arbitrary and capricious when the agency contravenes the legislature's intent, fails to consider a crucial aspect of the problem, or offers an implausible explanation contrary to agency expertise. Allen v. Lieberman, 359 Ill. App. 3d 1170, 1177, 836 N.E.2d 64, 69 (2005). Substantial evidence is defined as "evidence which a reasonable mind accepts as sufficient to support a particular conclusion and which consists of more than a mere scintilla but may be somewhat less than a preponderance." 775 ILCS 5/7A-102(D)(2) (West 2004); see Stone v. Department of Human Rights, 299 Ill. App. 3d 306, 314, 700 N.E.2d 1105, 1111 (1998). Substantial evidence has also been said to be "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Stone, 299 Ill. App. 3d at 315, 700 N.E.2d at 1111. For the following reasons, we affirm the chief legal counsel's decision to sustain the Department's dismissal of counts I, ...


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