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Crittenden v. Cook County Commission on Human Rights

Supreme Court of Illinois

June 20, 2013

JIMMY CRITTENDEN et al., Appellees,
v.
THE COOK COUNTY COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS et al., Appellants.

JUSTICE GARMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

GARMAN JUSTICE

¶ 1 Lynita Boyd filed a complaint with the Cook County Commission on Human Rights (Commission) alleging that she was sexually harassed by her employer, Jimmy Crittenden, while she was employed as a bartender at Jimmy's Place. The Commission entered an order in Boyd's favor, awarding $41, 670 in lost wages, $5, 000 in compensatory damages, $5, 000 in punitive damages, and attorney fees and costs. Crittenden and Jimmy's Place (hereinafter referred to simply as Crittenden) sought certiorari review in the circuit court of Cook County. The circuit court denied the petition, affirming the Commission's order. Crittenden appealed, and the appellate court upheld the Commission's order and grant of compensatory damages, but reversed the award of punitive damages. 2012 IL App (1st) 112437. This court allowed separate petitions for leave to appeal filed by both Boyd and the Commission. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). Crittenden did not file a brief with this court, but the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel (IDC) filed an amicus brief in support of Crittenden's position. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

¶ 2 BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Boyd filed a complaint with the Commission on November 15, 2006, alleging discrimination in employment based on sexual harassment by Crittenden, a managing employee of Jimmy's Place, and constructive discharge. On June 1, 2007, the Commission entered an order finding substantial evidence of a violation of the Cook County Human Rights Ordinance (Ordinance) (Cook County Code of Ordinances § 42-30 et seq. (2002)). An administrative hearing was held on July 9, 2008, and the hearing officer issued his recommended order in favor of Boyd on February 27, 2009. Crittenden and Boyd each filed exceptions to the recommended order. The Commission then issued its decision and order on February 16, 2010.

¶ 4 The Commission made several findings of fact, which were taken directly from Boyd's testimony. First, the Commission found that Crittenden "repeatedly made inappropriate sexually related comments to [Boyd] during her employment." In response, Boyd "made several repeated attempts to ignore and discourage Mr. Crittenden's behavior by asking him to leave her alone and telling him 'I am not here for that.' " The Commission also found Boyd's testimony regarding the evening of July 26, 2006, to be credible.[1] On that night, Rachel, a female patron of Jimmy's Place, approached Boyd prior to closing time. Rachel "propositioned [Boyd] in a sexually explicit manner" and attempted to grab Boyd. At this point, Crittenden physically straddled Rachel, "riding her like a pony" in front of Boyd. Later that evening, Boyd was again approached by Crittenden and Rachel. Crittenden lifted Rachel's blouse, flipped her bra away from her breasts and told Boyd to "[t]ouch them, touch them. You know you want them, touch them." In response, Boyd called for another employee, identified as Lois, who told Crittenden and Rachel to leave Boyd alone.

¶ 5 There was also a dispute over whether Jimmy's Place had posted its sexual harassment policy, as required by law. Boyd testified that she did not receive notice of any policy regarding sexual harassment, and while Crittenden testified that Jimmy's Place had a written policy, he was unable to clarify whether the policy had been distributed to employees.

¶ 6 The Commission found Boyd's testimony to be credible, but noted that the witnesses testifying in support of Crittenden were "simply not credible." During his testimony, Crittenden denied the occurrence of any incidents testified to by Boyd. At the hearing Crittenden called Rachel to testify, and she also denied the incidents described by Boyd. Crittenden called another patron and employee of Jimmy's Place, Rick Howard, who testified that he was present at Jimmy's Place that evening, but did not see the incidents occur. The Commission noted that Crittenden "appeared extremely nervous and continually swiveled his chair sharply while he testified." The Commission also found Rachel and Rick's testimony to lack credibility.

¶ 7 The Commission reached the conclusion that Crittenden's actions were "by any measure extreme in nature and sufficient to reach the 'severe and pervasive' standard articulated by this Commission and the courts." Furthermore, the Commission found that Crittenden's actions "had a severe impact on Ms. Boyd, " as she had testified that she suffered resulting hair loss, aggravation of psoriasis, and anxiety.

¶ 8 The Commission awarded Boyd $41, 670 in lost wages, $5, 000 in compensatory wages, $5, 000 in punitive damages, and attorney fees. The order also requires Crittenden to file a written compliance report with the Commission and to post appropriate notices. Crittenden filed a petition for writ of certiorari, challenging the Commission's decision and order, arguing among other things that the Commission lacked authority to award punitive damages and that there was no basis for the award of punitive damages.

¶ 9 The circuit court entered an order on July 22, 2011, confirming the decision of the Commission, concluding that the Commission's finding of sexual harassment was supported by the manifest weight of the evidence. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the result and award of compensatory damages. The court, however, reversed the award for punitive damages, finding that the Commission was without authority to award punitive damages.

¶ 10 ANALYSIS

¶ 11 The Commission and Boyd argue that the Commission is authorized to award punitive damages for violations of the Ordinance. They maintain that the Commission has broad powers and that we should defer to the Commission's interpretation of the Ordinance. Further, Boyd and the Commission assert that punitive damages were appropriate in this case due to Crittenden's willful and wanton misconduct. In its amicus brief, IDC urges this court to affirm the appellate court. IDC argues that the Commission is without authority to award punitive damages under the Ordinance. Additionally, IDC raises public policy concerns with allowing an administrative agency, like the Commission, to award punitive damages where the legislature has not explicitly granted the agency that right.

¶ 12 Whether the Commission is authorized to award punitive damages is a question requiring interpretation of the Ordinance, which we review de novo. Hamilton v. ...


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