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Rateree v. Rockett

decided: July 18, 1988.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 85 C 4700--Milton I. Shadur, Judge.

William J. Bauer, Chief Judge, John L. Coffey, and Daniel A. Manion, Circuit Judges.

Author: Bauer

BAUER, Chief Judge.

Bonnie Rateree, Kenneth Vaughn, William Gardner, Leander Brown, and Renee Gholson sued the City of Harvey, Illinois (Harvey) and three City Commissioners--Damon Rockett, Frank Piekarski, and Otis Gilmore--under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, claiming violations of their first and fourteenth amendment rights. The plaintiffs, city employees, claim they were harassed because of their political views and that all plaintiffs except Gholson eventually were fired for purely political reasons. The district court dismissed the plaintiffs' complaint, holding that the defendants' actions were protected by absolute legislative immunity. Rateree v. Rockett, 630 F. Supp. 763 (N.D. Ill. 1986). We affirm.*fn1


The district court's findings of fact tell the following story:

In May, 1983, the voters of Harvey elected David Johnson as the City's first black mayor. All the plaintiffs supported and campaigned for Johnson and his ticket-mate, Ernestine Berry-Beck, whose run for City Commissioner also was successful. Gilmore also ran for City Commissioner on Johnson's ticket and was elected. During the same election, all plaintiffs campaigned against Rockett and Piekarski and supported their opponents for City Commissioner slots. Rockett and Piekarski won.

Harvey operates under the commission form of government. Its legislative body is a city council consisting of four commissioners and a mayor, with each having one vote. The commissioners and the mayor are elected at large.

Soon after his election, Johnson appointed Rateree as his "Special Assistant." Rateree became Johnson's chief administrative aid and confidential employee. Rateree's duties included assisting the Mayor in managing the Department of Public Affairs and the Office of Mayor, assisting in the development of departmental goals, objectives, and supervising of staff, assisting the Mayor in his public relations activities, and coordinating human services for Harvey citizens in crises.

In September, 1983, Johnson appointed Vaughn as Coordinator of Economic Development. Vaughn's duties included initiating programs and services to encourage development of new businesses, the expansion of existing businesses, and coordinating efforts with other government and private agencies to insure maximum participation in state, county, and federal programs geared toward Harvey's economic development needs. Also in September, 1983, Johnson appointed Gardner as Coordinator of Housing. Gardner's duties included responsibility for management of departmental projects as assigned by the Director of Planning and Development, and the exercise of discretion in meeting project goals and schedules. Neither Vaughn nor Gardner reported directly to Johnson. Instead each reported to the City Planner.

In late December, 1983, Johnson hired Brown as Harvey's Employment and Training Coordinator. Nothing in the record describes Brown's duties or responsibilities. Gholson was hired in February, 1984 (though it is unclear from the record who hired her) as Vaughn's secretary. She was also the secretary to the Coordinator of Economic Development and was responsible for typing, fling, and answering phone calls.

All the plaintiffs' jobs (with the possible exception of Brown's) were positions created by Harvey's 1983-84 budget. These salaries were adjusted during fiscal 1983-84. Then, on July 23, 1984, the City Council passed Harvey's 1984-85 budget ordinance, which eliminated the appropriations for the jobs held by all plaintiffs. Rockett, Piekarski, and Gilmore voted for the 1984-85 ordinance, while Johnson and Berry-Beck voted against it.

Rateree, Vaughn, Gardner, and Brown were removed from Harvey's payroll in July, 1984, while Gholson was transferred to a secretarial position under Berry-Beck. In December, 1984, Rateree, Vaughn, and Gardner were rehired-Rateree as Administrative Manager to the Mayor, Vaughn as Project Manager of Economic Development, and Gardner as Project Manager of Housing. Funding for Rateree's job came from a line item in Johnson's budget; Vaughn's and Gardner's jobs were created by Berry-Beck and funded from her budget. Brown was never rehired.

Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on May 15, 1985. At that time, they claimed that Rockett, Piekarski, and Gilmore "harrassed" them and that they were under imminent threat of discharge "because of their political affiliations." Nothing happened to them, however, until the City Council passed the 1985-86 budget ordinance on July 11, 1985. (Rockett, Piekarski, and Gilmore voting in favor, Johnson and Berry-Beck against.) That ordinance contained further cuts affecting plaintiffs. It deleted "Secretary and Other" as a line item from Johnson's budget (eliminating funding for Rateree's job) and withdrew funding for Vaughn's and Gardner's jobs. In other words, the ...

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