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Farris v. Department of Employment Security

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

March 11, 2014

DONALD FARRIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THE DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY, an Administrative Agency in the State of Illinois; THE DIRECTOR OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY; and THE BOARD OF REVIEW, an Administrative Agency of the State of Illinois, Defendants-Appellants, and STROUT CROSSING, LLC, Defendant

As Corrected.

Appeal from Circuit Court of Greene County No. 11MR40. Honorable James W. Day, Judge Presiding.

Circuit court reversed; Board confirmed.

SYLLABUS

The appellate court had jurisdiction to consider the Department of Employment Security's appeal from the trial court's reversal of the Board of Review's decision that plaintiff was not entitled to unemployment benefits because he was discharged for employment- related misconduct based on his violation of a biosecurity policy at the pig-breeding facility where he worked, even though plaintiff's employer did not participate in the trial court proceedings, since the Department is responsible for defending the Board's decisions and protecting against erroneous payouts from the unemployment fund, and in plaintiff's case, the fact that plaintiff's employer was not harmed by plaintiff's violation of the biosecurity policy was due to the fortuitous intervention of a supervisor who refused to allow plaintiff to return to a " clean" area of the facility with contaminated clothing and did not prevent the violation from being deemed misconduct under section 602(A) of the Unemployment Insurance Act.

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, of Chicago (Michael A. Scodro, Solicitor General, and John P. Schmidt, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel), for appellants.

Richard N. Gillingham, of Carrollton, for appellee.

JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Knecht and Turner concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

STEIGMANN, JUSTICE.

Page 50

[¶1] In January 2011, plaintiff, Donald Farris, was fired from his employment at a pig-breeding facility owned by Strout Crossing, LLC (Strout), and operated by Pike Pig Systems, Inc. (Pike), for violating a biosecurity policy designed to avoid bacterial contaminants from entering the breeding facility and infecting the pigs. Plaintiff applied to the Department of Employment Security (Department) for unemployment benefits. Strout objected on the ground that plaintiff was discharged due to employment-related misconduct, rendering him ineligible for unemployment benefits under section 602(A) of the Unemployment Insurance Act (820 ILCS 405/602(A) (West

Page 51

2012)). A claims adjudicator agreed with Strout. Plaintiff appealed the claims adjudicator's decision to a Department referee who, following a hearing, determined that plaintiff was eligible for unemployment benefits because his actions did not constitute misconduct within the meaning of section 602(A) of the Act. Strout appealed the referee's decision to the Board of Review (Board), which reversed the referee's decision and found plaintiff ineligible for unemployment benefits. Plaintiff then filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court, arguing that he was not guilty of employment-related misconduct because his violation of the biosecurity policy did not result in harm to Strout. The circuit court agreed and reversed the Board's decision.

[¶2] The Department, its Director, and the Board appeal from the circuit court's decision, arguing that plaintiff's actions constituted misconduct within the meaning of section 602(A) of the Act, even though those actions did not result in actual harm. We agree and reverse.

[¶3] I. BACKGROUND

[¶4] The following facts were gleaned from the record of administrative proceedings before the Department's local-office claims adjudicator, the Department referee, and the Board, as well as the circuit court record. From December 2005 until January 2011, plaintiff worked as a farmhand in the breeding barn of Strout's pork production facility. After his discharge in January 2011, plaintiff applied to the Department for unemployment benefits.

[¶5] A. Proceedings Before the Claims Adjudicator

[¶6] Strout filed an objection to plaintiff's claim with the claims adjudicator of the Department's local office on the ground that plaintiff was ineligible for unemployment benefits under section 602(A) of the Act because he was discharged due to employment-related misconduct.

[¶7] Strout submitted a written statement of its biosecurity procedures, as contained in the employee handbook, to the claims adjudicator. The handbook described biosecurity as " of the upmost [ sic ] importance" to the company. The biosecurity policy designated the area of the farm facility where the pigs were located as the " clean" area, and the other parts of the facility as the " dirty" area. When employees who worked in the clean area arrived at work, they were required to remove their clothing in the dirty area, take a shower, walk through the shower area into the clean area, and put on clean clothes supplied by the farm. When leaving the clean area, workers were required to remove their farm clothes, leave them behind in the clean area and " shower through" to the dirty area, where they could put on their own clothes and leave at the end of their shifts. According to the employee handbook, these showering procedures were " the core of the personal biosecurity program" and necessary to prevent the spread of diseases, which can be easily carried on shoes, clothing, fingernails, hair, and jewelry.

[¶8] According to Strout's written statement regarding the circumstances of plaintiff's termination on January 15, 2011, plaintiff's supervisor, David Bishop of Pike, received a phone call from a Pike supervisor asserting that he could not locate plaintiff and suggesting that he might be sleeping in a bathroom in the dirty area of the facility. Bishop went to the farm facility and heard what he perceived to be snoring coming from a bathroom in the dirty area. Bishop knocked several times, and eventually heard a voice from inside say, " I'm ...


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