The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Burke
JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Justice Karmeier specially concurred, with opinion.
¶ 1 At issue in this case is whether respondent Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) erred when it ordered the Griggsville-Perry Community Unit School District No. 4 to comply with a labor arbitrator's award that reinstated a discharged employee. The appellate court held that the IELRB erred in ordering compliance with the award because the arbitrator had exceeded his authority to interpret the collective-bargaining agreement between the school district and the employee's union, and had improperly applied his "own brand of industrial justice" to resolving the employment dispute. 2011 IL App (4th) 110210. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court and confirm the decision of the IELRB.
¶ 3 This case arises out of the discharge of Angie Hires by the petitioner, Griggsville-Perry Community Unit School District No. 4 (District). Hires was a "paraprofessional" who worked in the District's elementary school library, helped at recess, and taught keyboarding classes. At the time of her discharge in March of 2008, Hires had worked for the District for 11 years.
¶ 4 Approximately a year before her dismissal, in January 2007, Hires experienced problems in her marital life that left her distraught and unable to sleep. She approached her principal, Andrea Allen, and told her about the problems. Allen was sympathetic and advised Hires to seek counseling.
¶ 5 Over the course of the following year, Hires' marital problems persisted and Allen had several conversations with Hires in which she expressed concern that Hires' personal problems were affecting her demeanor in school. A record of these conversations was kept by Allen in a personal notebook that Allen used to record incidents she thought were important to memorialize. Allen's concerns were stated to Hires in general terms. Allen told Hires, for example, that she should be more "positive" around students, that she should "put on a happy face," and that she should "smile more." Allen also wrote in her notebook that she was doing her best "to be supportive" of Hires.
¶ 6 Two specific incidents regarding Hires were also mentioned by Allen in her notebook. In October of 2007, Allen wrote that a teacher had reported "negativity" from Hires and had questioned having students take keyboarding classes from Hires. This complaint was not conveyed to Hires, and there were no further complaints regarding the keyboarding classes. In addition, in November of 2007, Allen wrote in her notebook that a parent had complained that Hires was not treating "kids ... equally & fairly." The allegation was not investigated and Hires was not told that a complaint had been made.
¶ 7 The personal notebook kept by Allen was not part of Hires' official personnel file; it was a private record to which Hires had no official access. At the time of her discharge, there were three notes in Hires' official personnel file regarding her job performance. The first note is dated March 9, 2007, and reads, "Spoke w/ Angie re: -smiling, treating kids nicer, etc[.] - let her know that bd. mbrs. had concerns." The second note is dated April 28, 2007, and reads, "Reminded Angie, treatment of students still needs work." The third note, dated October 18, 2007, reads, "spoke w/ Angie attitude." These notes were the only mentions of any work-related criticism in Hires' official personnel file.
¶ 8 The District held a regularly scheduled school board meeting in February of 2008. At that time, Allen was asked by the school board whether there were any District staff members about whom she had concerns. Allen retrieved her personal notebook and, after discussing her notes with the board, recommended that Hires be discharged. Hires had not been told that her employment status would be discussed at this meeting and had not been told that Allen would be recommending her discharge.
¶ 9 The superintendent of the District thereafter wrote to Hires that because she did not "relate well" to students and was "not always pleasant" she would be dismissed. The superintendent also informed Hires that she could "respond to these deficiencies" at the school board meeting in March. The deficiencies referenced in the letter were not particularized further.
¶ 10 Prior to the March school board meeting, Hires' union, respondent Griggsville-Perry Federation of Support Personnel IFTAFT, Local #4141 (Union), filed a grievance with the District regarding Hires' discharge. The grievance focused on the lack of specificity in the District's allegations that Hires' job performance was deficient, the lack of notice to Hires of any negative notes about her job performance, the lack of any opportunity for Hires to respond to the negative notes, and the lack of adequate warning to Hires of her pending dismissal. The District denied the Union's grievance.
¶ 11 Hires spoke to the school board at the March meeting. No further complaints regarding Hires' job performance were discussed. At the conclusion of the meeting, the school board discharged Hires.
¶ 12 The matter proceeded to arbitration. Following a hearing, the arbitrator found that the collective-bargaining agreement between the District and the Union required that an employee receive a fair hearing before being discharged. According to the arbitrator, the District arbitrarily violated this requirement by deciding to dismiss Hires before first telling her about the concerns regarding her job performance and before affording her an ...