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Robinson v. Village of Oak Park

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

April 16, 2013

SHAWNYA ROBINSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE VILLAGE OF OAK PARK, Defendant-Appellee.

Held [*]

Summary judgment was properly entered for defendant village in an action alleging that the village engaged in religious discrimination in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act when it failed to accommodate plaintiff’s beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness during a large-scale layoff process, since the village’s offer of a position in the parking permits office was a “reasonable accommodation, ” and there was no showing defendant’s behavior was contrary to its obligations under the Act.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 10-L-12881; the Hon. Raymond W. Mitchell, Judge, presiding.

Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, of Chicago Appeal (Timothy Huizenga and Sarah M. Baum, of counsel), for appellant.

Franczek Radelet, P.C., of Chicago (Michael A. Warner, Jr., Staci Ketay Rotman, and Mark S. Wilkinson, of counsel), for appellee.

Presiding Justice Harris and Justice Simon concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

QUINN, JUSTICE

¶ 1 I. INTRODUCTION

¶ 2 Plaintiff, a Jehovah's Witness, is currently employed by the defendant, the Village of Oak Park, in its finance department. After plaintiff was laid off from her employment with the defendant, she filed a claim of religious discrimination with the Illinois Human Rights Commission (Commission), claiming she was fired because of her religion. After the Commission conducted its investigation into the allegation, it dismissed plaintiff's claim with its finding that there was no substantial evidence to support her claim. Plaintiff then sued her employer in the circuit court alleging religious discrimination in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/1-101 through 10-103 (West 2010)) based on allegations that the defendant failed to accommodate plaintiff's religious beliefs during a large-scale layoff process which required placing employees, such as the plaintiff, into remaining available positions without violating the employees' rights under a governing collective bargaining agreement. The circuit court granted the defendant-employer's motion for summary judgment. This appeal by the plaintiff followed.

¶ 3 The Illinois Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/1-101 through 10-103 (West 2010)) prohibits an employer from discriminating against an individual on the basis of, among other things, his or her religious beliefs. If the employer can reasonably accommodate the individual's religious beliefs so he/she can perform the essential functions of the job without undue hardship or can otherwise fairly suggest a resolution to a potential conflict between an individual's performance and his or her religious beliefs, but did not do so, the employer can be liable under the Illinois Human Rights Act.

¶ 4 II. EXHAUSTION OF ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES

¶ 5 A case is properly commenced under the Illinois Human Rights Act when an aggrieved party files a written charge within 180 days of the alleged violation with the Illinois Human Rights Commission. 775 ILCS 5/7A-102(A) (West 2010). The employer, in this case the defendant, Village of Oak Park, must file its response to the charge and both parties may file position statements and other materials. 775 ILCS 5/7-102(B) (West 2010). The Commission then proceeds to independently investigate the factual basis of the charge to determine whether there is substantial evidence that a violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act has been committed. 775 ILCS 5/7-102(C) (West 2010). "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" of evidence. 775 ILCS 5/7A-102(D)(2) (West 2010). Following its investigation, if the Commission finds that there is no substantial evidence that the Illinois Human Rights Act was violated, it must dismiss the charge. The aggrieved party's rights do not end there as he/she is given 90 days to either file a request for review with the Commission or file a complaint in Illinois circuit court, where he/she is now entitled to request a jury trial in the event her complaint and pleadings withstand procedural and substantive defenses. 775 ILCS 5/7A-102(C)(4), (K) (West 2010).

¶ 6 We ordered plaintiff to file the final administrative decision by the Illinois Human Rights Commission as a supplement to the record on appeal as critical dates were missing from the record. This information was necessary for us to perform an independent evaluation of the issue of jurisdiction, which includes whether plaintiff had timely exhausted all of her administrative remedies. Neither party filed the requisite jurisdictional statement as part of its appellate brief in compliance with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 341(h)(4)(ii) (eff. July 1, 2008). Illinois courts have consistently held that time limitations for bringing actions before administrative bodies are matters of jurisdiction that cannot be tolled. Fredman Brothers Furniture Co. v. Department of Revenue, 109 Ill.2d 202, 209-10 (1985); Robinson v. Illinois Human Rights Comm'n, 201 Ill.App.3d 722, 729 (1990) (requirement that the charge must be filed with Commission within 180 days after alleged violation occurred is jurisdictional and not subject to defense of tolling). Therefore, this court suggests that plaintiffs who exercise their right to file a circuit court case alleging a violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act attach a copy of the Illinois Human Rights Commission's final agency action to their circuit court complaint or otherwise allege sufficient facts with supporting dates in the body of the complaint sufficient to demonstrate that he/she did, in fact, timely exhaust all available administrative remedies at all stages.

¶ 7 The exhaustion of administrative remedies doctrine has long been a fundamental principle of administrative law and an aggrieved party ordinarily cannot seek review in the courts without first pursuing all administrative remedies. Illinois Bell Telephone Co. v. Allphin, 60 Ill.2d 350, 357-58 (1975). This exhaustion requirement not only conserves valuable judicial time (Castaneda v. Illinois Human Rights Comm'n, 132 Ill.2d 304, 308 (1989)) but allows a party to possibly succeed before the administrative body, making judicial review unnecessary (Illinois Bell Telephone Co. v. Allphin, 60 Ill.2d 350 (1975)), and allows the administrative body with its particular expertise to fully develop and consider important facts (id.).

¶ 8 Our review has determined that plaintiff timely exhausted her administrative remedies and timely appealed the circuit court's grant of defendant's motion for summary judgment. Therefore, this court has jurisdiction to review this appeal.

¶ 9 III. BACKGROUND

ΒΆ 10 In February 2005, the defendant hired the plaintiff. She was always covered by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, District 8, collective bargaining agreement that the defendant had entered into ...


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