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08/03/89 Harvey Lambert, v. the City of Lake Forest

August 3, 1989

HARVEY LAMBERT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE

v.

THE CITY OF LAKE FOREST, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, SECOND DISTRICT

542 N.E.2d 1216, 186 Ill. App. 3d 937, 134 Ill. Dec. 709 1989.IL.1197

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. Charles F. Scott, Judge, presiding.

APPELLATE Judges:

JUSTICE McLAREN delivered the opinion of the court. JUSTICE NASH, specially Concurring. JUSTICE REINHARD, specially Concurring.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE MCLAREN

Defendant, City of Lake Forest, appeals from the denial of its post-trial motion. After a jury trial, the court entered judgment on the verdict in favor of plaintiff, Harvey Lambert. Lambert was awarded $98,265 based upon his complaint for retaliatory discharge. We reverse.

Lambert began working for the City of Lake Forest (City) in 1966 as a maintenance man in the Parks Department. He was an at-will employee throughout his tenure with the City. He received several promotions and became foreman of the streets department in 1979. In late 1981, the City formulated a plan to reorganize the City's administrative setup. As a result of this reorganization, the positions of foreman of streets and foreman of sanitation were to be combined into one foreman's position to be filled by Lambert. Lambert assumed this new position in February 1982, retaining his designation as streets foreman and preparing to assume the duties of sanitation foreman in January 1983.

On September 29, 1982, Anthony Mazza, superintendent of fleet maintenance, committed suicide. Mazza was one of the employees affected by the reorganization. Following the reorganization, Mazza appeared to be under increased stress or anxiety. The day after the suicide, Lambert told his supervisors, LeRoy Baur (Baur) and Harold Robson (Robson), that he thought Mazza's suicide was brought about by job pressures. In March 1983, the City received an application for adjustment of a workers' compensation claim filed with respect to the Mazza suicide.

On April 28, 1983, Robson convened a meeting of the supervisory personnel of the City, including Lambert. Robson informed everyone that the City was involved in a lawsuit filed by Mrs. Mazza on behalf of her late husband and that the suit would mean a lot of money to the City. He also stated that the City investigator and attorney would be conducting interviews with 9 or 10 of the employees on that day. Robson informed those in attendance that neither they nor their men should talk to Mrs. Mazza's attorney and should inform management if Mrs. Mazza's attorney contacted them.

After the meeting, Lambert told Baur that he did not want to be interviewed. Baur stated that he told Lambert to inform the City investigator and attorney that he did not want to talk. Lambert stated that he told Baur the suicide was job related, and Baur told him that he had better not tell the investigator or attorney that. Lambert's interview lasted approximately five minutes because he refused to provide any information.

Lambert's next job performance evaluation was conducted on August 1, 1983. This evaluation contained comments on many areas in which Lambert's job performance was suspect. After reviewing Baur's comments, Robson indicated that Lambert would be evaluated again on December 1, 1983. Robson also noted that, "failure to show improvement will require a reassessment of [Lambert's] value to the organization and reassignment to other duties."

On November 28, 1983, Baur evaluated Lambert's performance and noted that Lambert's effort did not meet the expectations the City had of a person in this position. Furthermore, Baur stated that, "in my opinion, Harvey is not presently in a position where he can be of the most advantage to the city."

On December 12, 1983, Lambert attended a meeting with Baur, Robson and John Fisher, the city's personnel director. Lambert was offered a check for $4,000 and asked to sign a letter of resignation. Lambert refused. He was then discharged. Lambert met with John Fischbach, the city manager, Robson and Fisher on January 6, 1984, and again on January 26, 1984. At the latter meeting, Lambert was offered a check for $9,500 and asked to sign a letter of resignation. Again, Lambert refused.

On October 29, 1986, Lambert filed a 10-count complaint against the City, Fischbach, Baur, Robson and Fisher, for retaliatory discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The basis of the complaint was that Lambert was fired for failing to give favorable information or testimony on ...


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