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Crossin v. City of Athens

June 27, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on Defendant City of Athens, Illinois (City) and Defendant Debra J. Richardson's Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 15) (Defendants' Motion). Defendant Richardson is Mayor of the City. She is sued in both her individual and official capacities. Plaintiff Alynda Crossin filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that she was terminated from her employment with the City in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights. Crossin alleges that she was relieved of her duties as Treasurer of the City because she spoke out on a matter of public concern. The Defendants now move for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is ALLOWED.


Crossin began her employment with the City in November 1993, initially as a secretary and then later as office manager. Sometime in 1996, she was appointed the Treasurer of the City by then Mayor George Cerar. As the City Treasurer, Crossin (rather than the Mayor) was responsible for managing financial accounts of City funds, maintaining the City's financial records up-to-date, reconciling the City's bank accounts, making deposits of all City funds, and accounting for all funds going in and out of the City's checking accounts. Crossin was also in charge of attending committee meetings and making monthly presentations to the City Council concerning the City's finances. Crossin supervised and worked directly with Amanda Oller, who was the office assistant. Both Oller and Crossin reported to the Mayor.

On October 14, 1996, by City Ordinance, the Office of the Treasurer became an appointed position. According to the Ordinance, the Mayor had the authority to fill the Treasurer position by appointment, subject to the advice and consent of the City Council. Defendants' Motion, Exh. 2, Exh. A, Ordinance. Crossin's employment with the City was at-will, which meant that the City could terminate Crossin's employment for any reason. In May 2001, Defendant Richardson was elected Mayor of the City. On November 24, 2001, Crossin received a copy of the Employee Handbook and signed an employee acknowledgment form, which provided that her employment could be terminated at will, with or without cause, at any time, so long as there was no violation of applicable federal or state law.

According to Mayor Richardson, Crossin's failure to work in a cooperative and cordial manner began in 2002. Mayor Richardson testified that Crossin was deficient in keeping the City's financial records current and in reconciling the various bank accounts of the City. From about 2001 through 2002, Crossin worked with Kyle McGinnis (a certified accountant who served as the Auditor of the City for approximately 25 years) on a monthly basis, during which time McGinnis checked and reviewed Crossin's work, and assisted Crossin with bank reconciliation. McGinnis began reviewing Crossin's work because he had observed numerous mistakes made by Crossin when he conducted yearly audits of the City. In order to reduce the time spent in correcting Crossin's work during yearly audits, McGinnis requested that he be allowed to review Crossin's work once a month, which request was granted.

In October 2002, Mayor Richardson hired Phillip Schaefer to perform bookkeeping work. Schaefer was then responsible for updating the City's bank accounts, reconciling the accounts, and posting activities to the accounts. Beginning in 2003, McGinnis turned over his monthly bookkeeping responsibilities to Schaefer, which included, among other things, checking and reviewing Crossin's work on a monthly basis, and preparing update reports to Mayor Richardson. McGinnis continued to work as the Auditor of the City, however.

Schaefer came to Athens once a month to assist Crossin with her work. Following his review of Crossin's work, Schaefer informed Crossin of the mistakes she had made, including interest not being recorded, checks not being properly recorded, items missing from the deposits that were not recorded, and mathematical errors. According to Schaefer, Crossin repeatedly made the above-noted mistakes.

On August 14, 2003, City Alderman Harry Nichols and Mayor Richardson met with Crossin to discuss problems concerning her relationship problems with Oller and her poor demeanor and disrespect of others at work. Mayor Richardson and Nichols hoped that, as a result of the meeting, Crossin would improve her demeanor and job performance. Mayor Richardson stated that she spoke to Crossin about her poor job performance on about 15 occasions.

From the spring of 2003 until November 2003, the City's Police Department was involved in drug sting operations in Athens, which led to several arrests. The Police Department and the City Council agreed to create a fund called "Keep Athens Clean" (hereinafter Fund) at the Athens State Bank to help fund a drug sting operation in Athens called "Operation Thunder." On November 21, 2003, a letter to the editor was published in the Menard County Review and the State Journal-Register, informing the public about the creation of the Fund and seeking contributions to help fund the drug sting operation. The drug sting operation was initiated by the Police Department's Officer David Baker, who advised Mayor Richardson not to disclose the existence of the Fund to Crossin because her children were suspected of being involved in illegal drug activities. Mayor Richardson opened an account for the Fund at the Athens State Bank on December 2, 2003.

In early December 2003, due to suspicion that Crossin was drunk at work, Mayor Richardson directed Crossin to take a breathalyzer test, which she refused. Crossin stated that she was humiliated by the incident. On December 8, 2003, Crossin's performance problems were discussed extensively at a City Council executive session; Crossin had failed to submit a reconciled financial statement to the City Council, which was needed for planning and budgeting purposes. During the session, one alderman suggested that Crossin should be terminated from her employment with the City. At the session, Mayor Richardson also related to the City Council about the breathalyzer incident and asked Oller, who was present at the meeting, to discuss her concerns about Crossin.

According to Mayor Richardson, she made up her mind about her decision to discharge Crossin in early December 2003. Mayor Richardson, however, did not express her decision to the City Council in either the December 2003 executive session or the following executive session, which was held sometime on January 8 or January 12, 2004.

On either January 19 or January 21, 2004, while at work, Crossin discovered a deposit slip of an account with which she was unfamiliar. She therefore questioned Mayor Richardson about it because, as the City Treasurer, she was responsible for keeping account of all City funds.

Crossin asked Mayor Richardson whether an account should be set up on the City's general ledger, and Mayor Richardson responded that she had already done so and that she and Chief of Police Matt Duncheon would be the persons responsible for the account. In her capacity as the City Treasurer, Crossin advised Mayor Richardson that the Fund should be accounted for on the City's general ledger. Mayor Richardson, however, related that ...

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