Supreme Court Summaries
Opinions filed February 4, 2016
Petrovic v. The Department of Employment Security, 2016 IL 118562
Appellate citation: 2014 IL App (1st) 131813
JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Chief Justice Garman and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Kilbride, Karmeier, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Plaintiff, who was working as a tower planner at O’Hare Airport, had been employed by American Airlines for almost 24 years when she received a termination letter in January of 2012. Her application for unemployment insurance benefits was denied after American filed a protest, claiming that the termination was for misconduct at work. A referee for the Department of Employment Security so found after a telephone hearing, and the Department’s Board of Review affirmed, incorporating the referee’s determination in its entirety in its decision, with no additional independent findings. Plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Cook County and was successful there, obtaining a reversal. However, the appellate court reversed, and plaintiff appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
While plaintiff was on duty at her job, she received a call from a friend at another airline, asking whether plaintiff could do something for a passenger who was scheduled to fly on American. Plaintiff requested that the catering department deliver a bottle of champagne to the passenger, and she then asked a flight attendant whether it would be possible to upgrade the passenger. The passenger was upgraded from business class to first class.
Misconduct which can render an employee ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits must be based on competent evidence in the record showing that the employee deliberately and willfully violated the employer’s reasonable rule or policy, and showing either that there was harm to the employer or an employee, or that the misconduct was repeated despite a warning or explicit instructions.
Although the termination letter and the employer’s protest were relied on as showing American’s rules and policies, neither constituted competent evidence in the record. The termination letter recited two numbered rules dealing with such things as misrepresentation of facts, falsification of records, dishonesty of any kind, theft or pilferage. However, these rules were not referenced at the hearing or introduced into evidence. In the protest which the employer filed, it was stated that “[o]nly authorized employees may issue an upgrade” and “claimant was made aware of this policy through PC based training.” However, a protest is a pleading. Factual allegations set forth therein must be substantiated with competent evidence in the record. No actual evidence of a policy communicated to the plaintiff through computer training was introduced at the hearing or documented in the record.
At the telephone hearing, plaintiff’s supervisor, the employer’s sole witness to testify, stated that he had no personal knowledge of the matter, but that “[p]olicies and procedures were not followed,” without identifying any express or written policy regarding upgrades. He said that plaintiff asked the “wrong people” and failed to seek management approval for the upgrade. These vague and conclusory statements do not constitute competent evidence of a reasonable rule or policy prohibiting plaintiff’s actions.
The employer failed to introduce any evidence that plaintiff was aware that her conduct was forbidden, and, thus, failed to establish the deliberate and willful violation of a reasonable rule or policy that is required before unemployment benefits may be denied. The supreme court said that the employee was eligible for benefits, and the circuit court was upheld.