The board of directors of Marshall Field and Co. of Chicago yesterday unanimously rejected the $36 a share acquisition offer from Carter Hawley Hale Stores of Los Angeles.

"The offer from Carter Hawley Hale was rejected because the board considers it illegal, inadequate and not in the best interest of Marshall Field," said Angelo R. Arena, president of the department store chain.

A Carter Hawley Hale spokesman said the company would not comment until a federal court in Chicago acts on the illegality issue.

The court is to consider - probably today or Friday - a lawsuit by Marshall Field charging the acquisition would violate anti-trust laws by reducing competition in the Chicago market. Carter Hawley Hale's Neiman Marcus division planned: Marshall Field is the Windy City's biggest department store chain.

Antitrust lawsuits are considered a standard delaying tactic in corporate take-over maneuvers, and Arena's description of the offer as "inadequate" seemed to leave open the door for other moves.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Arena conceded Marshall Field "is a very attractive business" for a mompany seeking a merger. "It's not as if this were something we have never considered," he added.

Carter Hawley Hale, which owns Neiman Marcus, The Broadway and The Emporium and other department store companies with total sales of $1.5 billion, offered approximately #325 million for Marshall Field, a $680 million a year business. Arena was chairman of Neiman Marcus before joining Marshall Field three months ago.

The merger of the two companies, which rank third and eighth largest in the department store business, would be one of the biggest ever in retailing. Carter Hawley Hale Monday hid $36 a share for Marshall Field stock, which closed at $22.75 Friday before trading was suspended because of the offer.

The $36 bid is an extraordinarily high price. I think they are overpaying," David Jackson, a retail analyst for the Los Angeles brokerage firm of Bate Eichler Hill and Richards told the Associated Press.