Owens v. Dep't of Human Rights

Decision Date13 August 2010
Docket NumberNo. 1-09-0908.,1-09-0908.
PartiesNick OWENS, Petitioner-Appellant, v. The DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS; Michael Lieberman, Chief Legal Counsel Designee of the Department of Human Rights; and Exxon Mobil Corporation, Respondents-Appellees.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

Robert A. Anderson, Anderson Law Office, Chicago, IL, for Petitioner-Appellant.

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, Michael A. Scodro, Solicitor General and Janon E. Fabiano, Assistant Attorney General, Chicago IL, for the State.

Jan Michelsen, Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart, P.C., Indianapolis, IN, for Exxon Mobil Corp.

Justice JOSEPH GORDON delivered the opinion of the court:

[344 Ill.Dec. 97, 403 Ill.App.3d 901]

On February 2, 2005, petitioner-appellant, Nick Owens, filed a charge of discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights (hereinafter, sometimes, the Department) alleging that his employer, Exxon Mobil Corporation (hereinafter Exxon Mobil) discriminated against him by issuing a written reprimand to him on December 13, 2004, even though he had been performing his duties in a satisfactory manner, based on his race (African American) (count A) and his age (55) (count B), in violation of section 2-102(A) of the Illinois Human Rights Act (Human Rights Act) (775 ILCS 5/2-102(A) (West 2004)). On February 23, 2005, Owens filed an amended charge adding that on February 15, 2005, despite satisfactorily performing his duties, he received a second written reprimand because of his race (count C) and age (count D), in violation of section 2-102(A) of the Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/2-102(A) (West 2004)), and further in retaliation for filing the subject discrimination charge (count E), in violation of section 6-101(A) of the Act (775 ILCS 5/6-101(A) (West 2004)). On June 27, 2005, Owens filed a second amended charge, adding that on or about April 12, 2005, Exxon Mobil subjected him to unequal terms and conditions of employment when it refused to grant his request for tuition reimbursement based upon his race (count F),his age (count G), and in retaliation for his filing the subject charge (count H).

After conducting an initial investigation, on August 3, 2007, the Department of Human Rights issued a notice of dismissal for lack of substantial evidence as to all eight counts of petitioner's charge. On January 22, 2009, however, the chief legal counsel of the Department of Human Rights vacated the dismissal order and reversed for

[344 Ill.Dec. 98, 936 N.E.2d 627]

further investigation into all counts. Upon further investigation, the Department of Human Rights issued a second order of dismissal, again finding that Owens had failed to present substantial evidence in support of his charge. This time, the chief legal counsel agreed with the findings of the Department and sustained the decision of the Department to dismiss petitioner's charge. Owens now appeals.

On appeal, Owens contends that the chief legal counsel of the Department of Human Rights abused his discretion when he sustained the decision of the Department to dismiss his discrimination charge, since he presented substantial evidence of discrimination. Owens also contends that the substantial evidence standard as articulated under section 7A-102(D)(2) of the Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/7A-102(D)(2) (West 2004)) is unconstitutionally vague. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

The undisputed facts establish that Owens has been employed by Exxon Mobil's Cicero Regional Distribution Center since 1977 and that at the time of the incident he was employed as a warehouse operator.

A. Owens' Discrimination Charge

On February 2, 2005, Owens filed a two count charge of discrimination with the Department. In count A, Owens alleged that on December 13, 2004, he was subjected to discrimination by Exxon Mobil on the basis of his race (African American), in violation of section 2-102(A) the Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/2-102(A) (West 2004)). In count B, Owens alleged that on that same date, he was subjected to discrimination by Exxon Mobil on the basis of his age (55 years old) violation of section 2-102(A) the Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/2-102(A) (West 2004)). In support of both counts A and B, Owens stated that although on the date in question he had been performing his duties in a satisfactory manner, his shift supervisor, Melvin Koziol, issued a written reprimand to him for "excessive loading time and loading errors." Owens further stated that although two similarly situated younger, white employees, Carl Pratscher, and Bryan Wright, had been cited for excessive loading time and loading errors, they were not given written reprimands for their conduct.

On February 23, 2005, Owens filed an amended charged, reiterating his earlier claims, but adding three more counts, C, D, and E. In count C, Owens alleged that on February 15, 2005, he was discriminated against on the basis of his race when he was issued a second written reprimand by shift supervisor Koziol in violation of section 2-102(A) of the Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/2-102(A) (West 2004)). In count D, Owens alleged that this same incident was a result of age discrimination, and violated section 2-102(A) of the Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/2-102(A) (West 2004)). Finally, in Count E, Owens alleged a claim of retaliatory discrimination pursuant to section 6-101(A) of the Act (775 ILCS 5/6-101(A) (West 2004)), contending that the February 15, 2005, written reprimand was issued to him in retaliation for his filing of the subject charge.

In support of counts C through E, Owens alleged the following facts. According to the second written reprimand, Owens had failed to perform his job duties by failing to include eight drums of "Telura 622" when loading a customer order on January 7, 2005. Owens, however, denied failing to perform his job duties on that date and explained that the eight drums of "Telura 622" "may have been added to [his] order after [he] had gotten [his] shipping notice." Owens averred that in the

[344 Ill.Dec. 99, 936 N.E.2d 628]

past there had been instances where subsequent changes made to a shipment order were not reflected on the copy of the shipping notice given to a warehouse operator. Owens further alleged that two similarly situated younger white employees, Pratscher and Wright, had been treated differently under similar circumstances. Owens further alleged that on February 15, 2002, he engaged in a protected activity by filing a discrimination charge with the Department of Human Rights and that the issuing of the second written reprimand followed this protected activity " within such a period of time so as to raise an inference of retaliatory motive." On March 25, 2005, Exxon Mobil filed a verified response denying the material allegations of Owens' charge.

On June 27, 2005, Owens filed a second amended charge, realleging counts A through E of his earlier charges, but adding three more counts, F, G, and H. In count F, Owens alleged that on or about April 12, 2005, Exxon Mobil subjected him to unequal terms and conditions of employment when it refused to grant his request for tuition reimbursement based upon his race, in violation of section 2-102(A) of the Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/2-102(A) (West 2004)). In count G, Owens alleged that, since at the time of this request, he was 55 years old, the denial of tuition reimbursement was also a result of age discrimination, in violation of section 2-102(A) of the Human Rights Act (775 ILCS 5/2-102(A) (West 2004)). Finally, in count H, Owens alleged a claim ofretaliatory discrimination pursuant to section 6-101(A) of the Act (775 ILCS 5/6-101(A) (West 2004)) claiming that Exxon Mobil refused to grant him tuition reimbursement in retaliation for his filing of the subject discrimination charge. In support of these additional claims, Owens alleged that although on April 12, 2005, he submitted a request for tuition reimbursement to his shift supervisor, Koziol, since then "no action has been taken on his request." Owens further stated that he "believe[s]" that other similarly situated, non-African-American employees under the age of 40, namely Wright, Gary Wantroba and others, have been granted tuition reimbursements. On August 10, 2005, Exxon Mobil filed a verified response to Owens' amended charge denying the material allegations.

B. The Department's First Investigation and Dismissal

The Department of Human Rights conducted an investigation and based on its findings, on August 3, 2007, dismissed all counts of Owens' charge for lack of substantial evidence. In support of its dismissal, the Department of Human Rights attached voluminous records of its investigation. Those records reveal that during its investigation, an investigator for the Department of Human Rights interviewed several witnesses, including (1) the petitioner, Owens, (2) two retired Exxon Mobil employees (Mike Sanders and Ernest Hampton); (3) one current Exxon Mobil employee (mechanic Jesse Thomas): (4) two members of Exxon Mobil management at the Cicero Regional Distribution Center (shift supervisor Melvin Koziol, and operations manager, Patrick O'Reilly); and (5) Exxon Mobil's in-house attorney, Judith Jansen. The investigator also reviewed voluminous documents provided by the parties, including: (1) a letter of reprimand from Koziol to Owens dated February 15, 2005; (2) a group of loading error investigation reports; and (3) a group of general disciplinary documents for Exxon Mobil employees at the Cicero Regional Distribution Plant.

With respect to counts A and B of Owens' charge, the Department's investigator reported the following evidence. When interviewed, Owens stated that on December

[344 Ill.Dec. 100, 936 N.E.2d 629]

13, 2004, his shift supervisor Koziol issued a written warning to him for "working too slow and making excessive errors." Although Owens admitted that he sometimes works slower than other employees, he...

To continue reading

Request your trial
93 cases
  • Santanu De v. City of Chi.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • December 14, 2012
    ...see also Blount v. Stroud, 232 Ill.2d 302, 328 Ill.Dec. 239, 904 N.E.2d 1, 6 (2009); Owens v. Dep't of Human Rights, 403 Ill.App.3d 899, 344 Ill.Dec. 94, 936 N.E.2d 623, 637 (1st Dist.2010). Specifically, the Act makes it a civil rights violation “[f]or any employer to refuse to hire, to se......
  • Champaign-Urbana Pub. Health Dist. v. Ill. Human Rights Comm'n
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • April 14, 2022
    ...and (4) the employer treated similarly situated employees outside of the class more favorably. Owens v. Department of Human Rights , 403 Ill. App. 3d 899, 919, 344 Ill.Dec. 94, 936 N.E.2d 623, 640 (2010). If the employee establishes a prima facie case, a rebuttable presumption arises that t......
  • Davis v. Metro. Pier & Exposition Auth.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • July 3, 2012
  • De v. City of Chicago
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • December 14, 2012
    ...sex, or handicap. 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/1-102; see also Blount v. Stroud, 904 N.E.2d 1, 6 (Ill. 2009); Owens v. Dep't of Human Rights, 936 N.E.2d 623, 637 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 2010). Specifically, the Act makes it a civil rights violation "[f]or any employer to refuse to hire, to segre......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT