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Eastham v. Housing Authority of Jefferson County

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

December 2, 2014

WILLIAM F. EASTHAM III, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
THE HOUSING AUTHORITY OF JEFFERSON COUNTY and THE BOARD OF REVIEW OF THE DEPARTMENT OF EMPLOYMENT SECURITY, Defendants-Appellants

Page 500

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 501

As Corrected.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County. No. 09-MR-57. Honorable Mark R. Stanley, Judge, presiding.

SYLLABUS

Where plaintiff employee of defendant housing authority tested negative on a random drug test but he was fired anyway, since he had told his supervisor that he thought he would fail the test because he had smoked marijuana during a recent vacation, and the Department of Employment Security's claims adjudicator found that plaintiff was ineligible for unemployment benefits because he knew smoking marijuana violated his union contract and represented willful misconduct, the Department's referee affirmed the adjudicator's decision, and the Board of Review upheld the denial of benefits based on the conclusion that the drug- and alcohol-free policy of plaintiff's employer applied even while plaintiff was not performing services, the trial court, pursuant to plaintiff's petition for administrative review, properly found that the policy had been misapplied, since the policy encompassed only acts that occurred " at a place where the worker may reasonably be in the performance of his duties and while he is fulfilling those duties or is engaged in something incidental thereto."

For Appellants: Henry P. Villani, Villani Johnson Buesking, LLC, Mt. Vernon, IL (for Housing Authority of Jefferson County); Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, Michael A. Scodro, Solicitor General, Evan Siegel, Timothy K. McPike, Assistant Attorney Generals, Office of the Attorney General, Chicago, IL (for Board of Review of the Department of Employment Security).

For Appellee: L. James Hanson, Edwin J. Anderson, Daniel M. Bronke, L. James Hanson, Attorney at Law, Mt. Vernon, IL.

JUSTICE CHAPMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Cates and Justice Goldenhersh concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

CHAPMAN, JUSTICE.

Page 502

[¶1] The plaintiff, William F. Eastham III, was required to submit to a random drug test by his employer, the Housing Authority of Jefferson County. The plaintiff informed his supervisor that he believed he would fail the drug test because he had smoked marijuana during a recent vacation. His employment was terminated before the results of the drug test were available. The test subsequently came back negative. The plaintiff's claim for unemployment insurance benefits was denied. The basis for this decision was a policy of the employer which provided that employees may not use or be under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance " while in the course of employment." The plaintiff filed a petition for administrative review. The circuit court reversed the administrative decision, finding that (1) the phrase " while in the course of employment" includes only the times during which an employee is performing work duties; and (2) the policy is unreasonable to the extent it can be interpreted to regulate an employee's conduct outside of work. The defendants, the Housing Authority of Jefferson County and the Board of Review of the Department of Employment Security, appeal. They argue the circuit court erred in reaching both of these conclusions. We affirm.

[¶2] The plaintiff was employed by the Housing Authority of Jefferson County (Housing Authority) in its maintenance facility. The Housing Authority has a drug- and alcohol-free workplace policy addressing drug and alcohol use by its employees. The policy provides, in pertinent part, that the " possession, use, consumption or being under the influence of a controlled substance *** while on Housing Authority premises and/or while in the course of employment of the Housing Authority" violates the terms of employment for any employee. The policy contains an identical provision regarding alcohol use. The policy further provides that, " for purposes of this policy, 'under the influence' means having any measurable amount of a prohibited substance under this policy in any test of the employee's breath, blood, urine, hair, or any other test permitted by law." The provisions of the policy are incorporated into the collective bargaining agreement.

[¶3] On December 19, 2008, the plaintiff was required to submit to a random drug test pursuant to this policy. After taking the test, he informed his supervisor, Janice DePlanty, that he had smoked marijuana twice while he was on vacation a few weeks earlier. He admitted to smoking small amounts of marijuana on November 15 and November 22, 2008, and he returned to work on November 24. The plaintiff told DePlanty that he did not believe he would pass the test as a result.

[¶4] Two days later, he made the same admission to the Housing Authority's executive director, Tom Upchurch. On December 22, at Upchurch's request, the plaintiff and his union representative met with Upchurch and DePlanty. The union representative informed ...


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