Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 09 L 50694 Honorable Sanjay T. Tailor,Judge Presiding.
Chicago Park District, c/o Cambridge Integrated Services,
JUSTICE STEELE delivered the opinion of the court:
Defendants, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (Department), its Director, and the Board of Review, appeal from the circuit court's order reversing the Board's decision denying plaintiff, Juanita Childress, unemployment benefits under section 601(A) of the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act (Act) (820 ILCS 405/601(A) (West 2008)). Defendants contend that under the Act, plaintiff was ineligible to receive benefits because she voluntarily left work without good cause attributable to her employer when she accepted her employer's severance package. Defendants contend that, as a result, the circuit court erred in reversing the Board's decision. We agree and therefore reverse.
The record shows that plaintiff was employed as an advanced buyer by the Chicago Park District (hereafter Park District) from September 1999 until October 15, 2008, when she accepted the Park District's voluntary severance package. She then applied for unemployment benefits and the Park District protested her claim. The Park District alleged that plaintiff was ineligible for benefits because she voluntarily accepted the severance package, along with monetary compensation. The Park District further alleged that plaintiff was not threatened with a layoff, nor did her resignation impact another employee.
On February 19, 2009, a claims adjudicator for the Department determined that plaintiff was ineligible for unemployment benefits because she left work voluntarily without good cause attributable to her employer when she accepted the Park District's voluntary severance package.
Plaintiff requested reconsideration of this decision. She stated that she had requested information from upper management regarding whether an alleged layoff would affect her, but "they could not guarantee [her] that [she] would remain an employee." She stated that was sufficient reason for her to accept the severance package offered and search for employment elsewhere.
On March 31, 2009, a Department referee conducted a telephonic hearing in the matter. Plaintiff testified that she accepted the severance package, along with $15,000 in monetary compensation, because the Park District was "talking about doing major layoffs." She testified, however, that she was never notified that she would be laid off from her position, in which she held the most seniority. She testified that the job cuts were not directed at any one person or department or based on seniority but, rather, were "across the board." She further stated the number of people the Park District intended to lay off was reported in the newspaper, but she could not recall that number. Plaintiff testified that she questioned the Director about the targeted employees, but he could not confirm who would be affected by the cuts. Moreover, plaintiff testified that although the severance package permitted employees to work until the end of October, she left before then because she was seeking alternative employment. She acknowledged that three other employees held the same position but did not accept the buyout package.
Plaintiff further testified that another reason she left her employer was because her work was "being taken and misconstrued or done a different way or given to someone else" even after she had completed it. She stated that it was her responsibility to ensure the work was performed properly; however, she had no knowledge it had been changed. She testified that, prior to leaving, she notified her director that work on the computer had been deleted by other staff. Plaintiff believed she also reported the deletion of her work to human resources, but was unsure. She testified that based on the deletion, she believed she "wasn't needed."
Park District human resources manager Michele Gage next testified that the Park District offered the voluntary severance package to all full-time Park District employees, notifying them via a letter. She testified that she was unaware of any meetings where layoffs were threatened and there were no layoffs of full-time staff at the Park District. Gage testified that when plaintiff submitted her resignation, she stated that, for a number of reasons, it was time for her resignation and that she was not happy with the departmental management. Gage further testified that plaintiff had resigned from her position prior to the end of the incentive period, citing personal issues unrelated to work and good timing.
On April 1, 2009, the referee affirmed the claims adjudicator's determination, finding that plaintiff was ineligible to receive unemployment benefits under section 601(A) of the Act (820 ILCS 405/601(A) (West 2008)), because she voluntarily left work without good cause attributable to her employer. The referee held the evidence did not reflect that plaintiff was in imminent danger of losing her job and that she could have worked an additional two weeks under the terms of the offer, but declined to do so because of personal issues.
Plaintiff appealed to the Board. On June 3, 2009, the Board affirmed the referee's decision, citing the Illinois Administrative Code (56 Ill. Adm. Code §2840.125, added at 17 Ill. Reg. 17929, eff. October 4, 1993), which governs when a person is eligible for unemployment benefits after accepting an employment buyout package. The Board found the Park District's severance offer was voluntary and not coerced by the threat of layoff. That is, the Board observed that the Park District did not announce any specific layoffs in conjunction with its offer and did not set any fixed goals regarding the number of employees expected to retire. The Board also found plaintiff was not informed that she would face a layoff if she did not accept the buyout. It further found there was no evidence that plaintiff sought assurances from the employer that her employment would not, in the proximate future, be terminated under terms substantially less favorable to the terms of the buyout or that the terms of her employment would not, in the proximate future, become substantially less favorable. Rather, it found a substantial reason for her decision to leave was her dissatisfaction with the allocation of work, and this, the Board held, did not constitute good cause attributable to her employer.
Plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Cook County. The circuit court reversed the Board's decision on September 9, 2009. Defendants appealed.
Although plaintiff has not filed a brief on appeal, we will consider the merits of the appeal under the standard set forth in First Capitol Mortgage Corp. v. Talandis ...