An Illinois state employee who physically assaulted her supervisor, but was protected by her union and allowed to keep her job, has been awarded $360,000 in back pay as part of Illinois’ new state budget.
This week, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed the legislation authorizing the state’s new $40 billion spending package for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
The budget authorized a range of spending, including money to settle judgments awarded by the Illinois Court of Claims – the only court in the state in which Illinois residents and others may bring monetary claims against the state government, with the exception of workers’ compensation claims and claims made in federal court.
Among a range of awards included in the approved settlements was a $360,000 payment to America Evans. The authorizing legislation, included as an amendment to the budget package, lists the award simply as “back wage, against the Department of Employment Security,” to settle a claim brought by Evans in the Court of Claims in 2018.
However, Evans’ case is one that dates back years, and which first included an official agency investigation, followed by a union-instigated grievance and arbitration process and hearings before both a Cook County Circuit Court judge and a state appeals panel.
The case began at the office of the Illinois Department of Employment Security, where Evans had attained the rank of office supervisor. Her direct supervisor was the office manager, identified in court documents as Jose Crespo.
At some point, Evans allegedly came into work on a Monday morning to discover work she presumed was being completed on a Friday when she was out of the office on other duties had not been processed.
She then allegedly went into her supervisor’s office, where she allegedly found him on the phone, and left the office saying, “If you don’t give a fuck, then I don’t give a fuck.”
Crespo then went to her office, where she allegedly “began yelling at him, using profanity and calling him a ‘motherfucker’ and a ‘loser.’”
Crespo allegedly then smashed a flowerpot that had been on her desk by throwing it to the floor, and Evans then allegedly attacked Crespo.
“She was trying to hit him and she scratched his neck, face, chest, arm and hand,” an Illinois appeals court decision said. “Other workers heard Evans yell, ‘get out of my office you motherfucker’ during the confrontation.”
Evans was later convicted of misdemeanor battery, and sentenced to six months of court supervision.
The Illinois Department of Central Management Services also investigated the incident and ordered Evans to be fired, saying CMS has “no tolerance for physical attacks, threats and intimidation.” CMS also found Evans “made false and misleading statements during the investigation.”
However, Evans’ union, the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 31, filed a grievance over the termination, asserting CMS did not have “just cause” to fire her. Under the union’s collective bargaining agreement, the matter went to binding arbitration. The arbitrator determined the termination was “an excessive and unreasonable punishment” and Crespo “was partially at fault for how he handled the situation” and instead ruled she should only be suspended for 60 days.
Crespo had been suspended for seven days for his role in the confrontation.
The arbitrator said it “would be unfortunate for the Department to lose out on Evans’ skills and experience based on this one lapse in judgment – an aberration.”
CMS then appealed the matter to the Cook County Circuit Court in 2015, where a judge sided with CMS, and reinstated her termination.
However, Evans appealed to the Illinois First District Appellate Court, which ruled, under Illinois law and the union’s CBA, the decision of the arbitrator needed to stand.
“Most people would probably accept the premise that if you physically attack your boss, you should be fired,” the appellate court wrote, in a decision issued on Dec. 26, 2017, and authored by Appellate Justice John B. Simon. “And if the arbitrator would have found that remedy appropriate in this case, we likely would have affirmed that too.
“Sitting in judicial review, however, the court cannot reweigh the arbitrator’s interpretation of the facts and evidence, nor can the court reverse an arbitration award merely because it may have decided the issues differently than the arbitrator.”
The First District court reinstated the arbitrator’s ruling, putting Evans back in her job, and subtracting 60 days pay as a result of her suspension.
According to documents provided by the Illinois Court of Claims, Evans then filed a claim in the Court of Claims on March 15, 2018, seeking at least $340,566 in unpaid back wages and retirement benefits she said she was owed for fiscal years 2015-2017.
The state agreed to her claim in a settlement entered in the Court of Claims on May 1, 2019.