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Woods v. City of Berwyn

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

October 29, 2014

JOHN MICHAEL WOODS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE CITY OF BERWYN, THE BOARD OF FIRE & POLICE COMMISSIONERS OF THE CITY OF BERWYN, BERWYN FIRE DEPARTMENT, FIRE CHIEF DENIS J. O'HALLORAN, RALPH REYNA, Commissioner, ROGER MONTORO, Commissioner, and RICHARD TOMAN, Commissioner, Defendants-Appellees

Page 809

As Corrected.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 2011 CH 32916. The Honorable Neil H. Cohen, Judge, presiding.

SYLLABUS

On appeal from a decision of defendant board of fire and police commissioners to discharge plaintiff from his position as a fire lieutenant for making threats against his superiors, the appellate court upheld the board's decision, since the collective bargaining agreement did not give plaintiff the right to arbitration, the board did not violate plaintiff's rights by hearing the charges, and the board's factual findings, including the decision to reject plaintiff's theory that he was being framed by a fellow lieutenant, were not against the manifest weight of the evidence and supported the decision to discharge plaintiff.

FOR PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT: Golan & Christie, LLP, Chicago, IL; Law Office of Harry C. Lee, Chicago, IL.

FOR DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES: Laner Muchin, Ltd., Chicago, IL.

JUSTICE HYMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Pucinski and Justice Lavin concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

HYMAN, JUSTICE.

Page 810

[¶1] Plaintiff John Woods appeals the decision of defendant Board of Fire and Police Commissioners of the City of Berwyn discharging him as a fire lieutenant. Woods' discharge stems from certain threats he allegedly made against superiors. He argues that: (i) his due process rights were denied when he was not allowed to arbitrate his grievance; and (ii) the decision to terminate was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We disagree and affirm, finding that conditions precedent to arbitration were not satisfied, that the Board's findings were not against the manifest weight of the evidence, and that its decision to terminate was reasonable.

[¶2] BACKGROUND

[¶3] Woods began working for the Berwyn fire department in 1988. He was promoted to fire lieutenant in 2008. Woods had a clean disciplinary record until 2009, when he received a 24-hour suspension without pay for a confrontation with a firefighter to whom Woods said, " You stay out of my life." The firefighter asked Wood's three times, " Is that a threat?" Woods answered, " Yeah, leave me alone."

[¶4] In October 2010, Woods volunteered to become the department's training officer. But, over time, he felt he received inadequate training for the job and that his superiors were overly critical of his work. He described his supervisors' treatment as " harassment."

[¶5] In mid-May 2011, Deputy Chief Sam Molinaro spoke to Woods at a pub. Woods told Molinaro that he was extremely stressed about his job, and the stress was starting to affect his family life. Molinaro advised Woods to speak to the fire chief and request a reassignment. He also told him that, with 14 new firefighters in the department, it was important that Woods did his job well. Woods responded he could handle the job, but insisted his superiors picked on him.

[¶6] By month's end, Woods, changed his mind. He met with with Assistant Chief Dick Swade and Chief Denis O'Halloran. The

Page 811

chief asked Woods whether he wanted to remain in the training officer position. Woods said, " No, I do not." Woods further stated that he was tired and not sleeping, and would go home at night, sit in his chair, and have " bad thoughts." The chief told Woods, " Okay, you're out."

[¶7] As a result of the meeting, a 14-day notice was posted seeking a lieutenant to take over the training officer vacancy, and if no lieutenant volunteered, the most junior lieutenant would be assigned the job. Lieutenant Ronald Hamilton was the most junior lieutenant in the department. The chief discussed the prospect of becoming the training officer with Hamilton, and Hamilton was not happy.

[¶8] A few days later, Woods met with his supervisor, Deputy Chief Greg DiMenna, to turn in lesson plans. The deputy chief complimented Woods on his work, and Woods responded saying he wanted to continue as training officer. The deputy chief said he would ask his superiors if Woods could stay on as training officer. The deputy chief asked the chief whether Woods could remain in his position, and the chief said, " Absolutely not." The deputy chief did not tell Woods the chief's response.

[¶9] On June 3, 2011, Lieutenant Hamilton was on duty at the south end firehouse in Berwyn. While returning from a call, Hamilton saw Woods on the firehouse driveway. Woods and Hamilton were friends, having socialized a number of times outside of work. Woods asked Hamilton to talk. According to Hamilton, Hamilton started the conversation, saying, " Mike [Woods], you have a good heart. You have a heart of gold, but you ...


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