Order on John C. Bonewizc v. Department of Labor

Plaintiffs, John C. Bonewicz, P.C. and John C. Bonewicz, Esq., seek an administrative review of a final decision entered by Defendant, the Illinois Department of Labor.   The complaint is also brought against Joseph Costigan, Raymond Cyrus, and Arnesha Hobson. Ms. Hobson (“Claimant”), who was employed by Plaintiffs for several years, was terminated for “dishonesty, specifically misrepresenting herself, and her position with the firm, as well as her salary, to the Cook County House Authority in order to obtain housing benefits.”  Based on Claimant’s numbers for July 2011, she was potentially eligible for $3,000.00 bonus payable on August 2011; however, she was terminated on August 4, 2011.  The Termination of Employment section of Employee Handbook contained the following statement, “assuming an employee has qualified for bonus pay, that bonus check is only due to that employee if they are employed with the company on the date of the bonus check which is the 2nd payday of the month subsequent to the month earned”.

The Claimant sued Plaintiffs pursuant to the Illinois Wage Payment for Collection Act (“IWPCA”) and on September 21, 2012 the Department issued a decision stating that Plaintiffs violated the IWPCA “by having failed to timely pay Claimant” her bonus, ordering Plaintiffs to pay $3,828.00 to the Claimant for the unpaid bonus and statutory damages, as well as to pay $250.00 to the Department as an administrative fee.

On October 23, 2012, Plaintiffs filed the instant complaint.  The trial court’s role in reviewing an administrative agency’s ruling is to determine whether the agency’s decision is just and reasonable in light of the evidence presented in the record.  Defendants assert that Plaintiffs have supported their complaint with facts that are not available in the record; however the Handbook is in the administrative record.

Plaintiffs argued that the Department’s decision should be reversed because it is erroneous on its face, that there was no employment contract or agreement on which to base a wage claim, and that the language of the Handbook gives the Claimant no right to a bonus.

The court does not find the decision to be erroneous on its face since even though the Department’s decision incorrectly describes the unpaid bonus as “unpaid earned vacation”, the Department intended to refer to a “bonus” as it did in other parts of the decision.

The court does not find Plaintiffs’ argument, that the parties lacked a valid employment agreement to be persuasive since even though the court found that the Handbook is not an employment agreement, the fact that the Claimant signed it created an agreement upon which an IWPCA wage claim can be brought.

Lastly, the court agrees with the Plaintiff that, even if the Handbook is a valid contract of agreement, the language of the Handbook does not entitle Claimant to the bonus and therefore does not support the recovery of the bonus.  The Termination of Employment section of the Handbook clearly and unambiguously states that no bonus will be due to an employee who is no longer employed with the company on the date that the bonus check is to be payable.

The court has a definite and firm conviction that the Department erred in reaching its decision because the manifest weight of the evidence demonstrates that the Claimant has no right to a bonus payment under the terms of the Handbook applicable to her status as a terminated employee.  Therefore, the court finds the Department’s September 21, 2012 decision to be clearly erroneous.

The court’s order is that the final decision of the Department of Labor, issued on September 21, 2012, is reversed.  Judgment is entered for Plaintiffs and against Defendants on Plaintiffs’ complaint for administrative review.