Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County. No. 12MR525. Honorable Thomas J. Difanis, Judge Presiding.
The final decision of the executive committee of the Board of Trustees of the State Universities Retirement System denying plaintiffs' requests to purchase service credit pursuant to the Pension Code was upheld on administrative review, since plaintiffs' bare allegations and unsupported conclusions were insufficient to establish a prima facie case that they were treated differently than similarly situated individuals and that an equal-protection violation occurred.
Paul R. Klenck (argued), of Illinois Education Association, of Chicago, for appellants.
Albert J. Lee (argued), of State Universities Retirement System, of Champaign, for appellees.
JUSTICE TURNER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Knecht concurred in the judgment and opinion. Presiding Justice Appleton dissented, with opinion.
[¶1] In July 2012, plaintiffs, Patricia Slocum and Patricia Puccio, filed a complaint for administrative review of a final decision of the executive committee of the Board of Trustees of the State Universities Retirement System (SURS or the Board) denying their requests to purchase service credit under the Illinois Pension Code (Pension Code) (40 ILCS 5/1-101 through 24-109 (West 2012)). In January 2013, the circuit court found the final administrative decision was not against the manifest weight of the evidence and denied plaintiffs' request for administrative review.
[¶2] On appeal, plaintiffs argue the decision by SURS to deny their requests for service credit was clearly erroneous and a denial of equal protection. We affirm.
[¶3] I. BACKGROUND
[¶4] The College of Du Page (College), a community college in Du Page County, was a participating employer in SURS at all times relevant to this case. Slocum was employed as a part-time adjunct professor at the College from the fall of 1982 until becoming a full-time professor in September 1988. Puccio was employed at the College as a part-time adjunct professor from 1980 until becoming a full-time professor in the fall of 1989. Slocum retired in 2008 and Puccio retired in 2009.
[¶5] Prior to plaintiffs' employment with the College, the College had implemented personnel policy 4456. During the 1980s, policy 4456 provided " [a]ll part-time assignments for individuals who are otherwise not gainfully employed will not exceed two-thirds of a normal teaching load." " Teaching load" referred to the number of credit hours taught in a given quarter. Full-time teaching loads in plaintiffs' departments were 15 credit hours per quarter. A part-time teaching load could not exceed 10 hours, or two-thirds of 15 hours. If a department wanted a part-time professor to teach more than two-thirds of a normal teaching load, the scheduler had to get special permission from the appropriate provost. Both plaintiffs, as part-time professors, were told by deans that they could not be assigned more than 10 credit hours. In one quarter, when a full-time faculty member was injured in a car accident, the provost, consistent with the requirement of policy 4456, gave permission for Puccio to work full-time for that quarter.
[¶6] At some point in time, the College's director of human resources, Howard Owens, created his own formula for calculating part-time work. Rather than calculating workload percentages solely using the number of credit hours per quarter divided by a full-time credit hour load, Owens based his formula on the assumption that a full-time professor had a 40-hour workweek that included teaching, preparing and grading lessons, maintaining office hours, and working on committee assignments. Owens assumed part-time professors did not have office hours or committee assignments as did full-time professors, and that those duties constituted 15 hours of a full-time faculty member's workweek. Owens believed the actual teaching load accounted for 25/40 or 62.5% of a full-time professor's 40-hour workweek. Thus, when calculating a part-time adjunct's workload, the Owens formula discounted the teaching load formula by multiplying .625, because, in his opinion, full-time faculty worked a 40-hour week and part-time faculty did not have office hours or perform committee work.
[¶7] During testimony, plaintiffs stated they maintained office hours when they were part-time, adjunct faculty members. Puccio worked on a committee while an adjunct professor. Slocum met with students outside teaching hours either in the classroom or in the part-time faculty center. She also attended advisory workshops.
[¶8] While plaintiffs were part-time employees, they were not eligible to participate in SURS. After they became full-time employees, plaintiffs participated in SURS, earned service credit, and made contributions to SURS. In the late 1990s, plaintiffs applied to purchase SURS service credit for the adjunct work they performed in the 1980s before they were SURS participants. Under the Pension Code, SURS participants can purchase service credit for prior work performed when the employee " was employed at least one-half time for an employer preceding the date of becoming a participant." 40 ILCS 5/15-113.1(c) (West 2012). When plaintiffs made their application in the late 1990s, the College used the
Owens formula to calculate part-time work and used this formula when reporting to SURS. Thus, the College took the credit hours plaintiffs worked each quarter in the 1980s and multiplied that by a factor of .625. Under the Owens formula, plaintiffs were able to purchase service credit for some quarters.
[¶9] In 2006, a full-time faculty member filed a grievance with the College's faculty administrative review board (review board), complaining that the College violated policy 4456 by improperly assigning too much work to part-time faculty. Since the Owens formula discounted part-time work by a factor of .625 and policy 4456 limited part-time work to two-thirds of a teaching load, adjunct professors could be assigned more credit hours than if assignments were made using the teaching load formula. In response, the review board issued a recommendation that all College administrators should only use credit hours to calculate part-time employees' workload percentage, rather than using the Owens formula, which discounted adjuncts' workload because it assumed they did not perform committee work and office hours. In 2008, the College president adopted the review board recommendation, and the College abandoned the Owens formula and reverted to the teaching load formula consistent with policy 4456.
[¶10] In 2007, after the review board recommendation, plaintiffs attempted to purchase service credit with SURS for some of the adjunct work they performed in the 1980s. Claire Benz, a compensation specialist with the College, told Puccio she was eligible to purchase credit for certain quarters. The College reported to SURS that Slocum and Puccio had worked certain quarters in the 1980s at least half-time or more.
[¶11] At approximately the same time, three other College employees, Sue Censky, Joyce Abel, and Nancy Conradt, allegedly purchased service credit for part-time work performed in the 1980s. After Abel's request to purchase service credit was approved, Puccio submitted her request. The College allegedly calculated plaintiffs' time using the teaching load formula.
[¶12] After receiving plaintiffs' reports, SURS director of member services Angela Lieb initiated a review of the College's report of plaintiffs' service credit. SURS asked the College why it was reporting that plaintiffs worked half-time or more in certain quarters in the 1980s, when it had not reported those quarters in the late 1990s when plaintiffs previously applied to purchase service credit. Julie Boyce, at human resources for the College, indicated the discrepancy was due to a change in the College's formula effective in April 2007. After Lieb's inquiry, the College revised the report to SURS and reverted to using the Owens formula for plaintiffs. Based on the College's second report, SURS denied plaintiffs' requests to purchase additional service credit.
[¶13] In 2008, plaintiffs petitioned SURS for an administrative hearing. In her petition, Puccio argued SURS erred in denying her request to purchase service credit by requiring the percentage of employment be determined by the formula in place at the time the service was rendered. Puccio alleged the College used " an erroneous, illegal formula" in reporting service credit to SURS and the formula " was inconsistent with administrative practice which limited part-time faculty to an annual teaching load no greater than two-thirds of a full-time faculty member's academic year load in accordance with Board policy." Puccio claimed an internal review board at the College found the old formula violated labor practices and did not reflect the actual work performed by faculty. A corrected formula was adopted, and SURS
accepted the new formula retroactively for other individuals.
[¶14] In December 2008, the SURS claims committee recommended that the executive committee remand the case to staff with directions to seek " further evidence to prove factually what methodology was employed" by the College in the 1980s when reporting to SURS " which of its employees performed at ...