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Richard Dominick v. Town of Cicero; and Larry Dominick

August 3, 2011

RICHARD DOMINICK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOWN OF CICERO; AND LARRY DOMINICK, PRESIDENT OF THE TOWN OF CICERO, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case comes before the Court on the motion of Defendants Larry Dominick ("Larry") and the Town of Cicero (the "Town") (collectively, "Defendants") for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is denied.

BACKGROUND*fn1

Larry Dominick is the President of the Town, a unit of municipal government in Cook County, Illinois. On October 14, 2008, the Trustees for the Town (the "Trustees") adopted, and Larry approved, resolutions which created the Vacant Building Appeals Committee (the "Committee") and empowered Larry to appoint three members to the Committee. Larry appointed his brother Richard Dominick ("Richard") to the Committee with an annual compensation of $10,599.94 and health benefits. The resolution specified that Richard's appointment would expire on April 30, 2009. Just a few days before the expiration of Richard's appointment, the Trustees adopted, and Larry approved, another resolution extending the appointment from April 30, 2009, to May 31, 2009.

While serving on the Committee, Richard made a statement to CBS Chicago Channel 2 News ("CBS") which was reporting on government waste and corruption. On February 23, 2009, CBS aired the interview in which Richard stated that he worked one hour per month on the Committee in exchange for approximately $1,000 per month and health benefits. Also while serving on the Committee, Richard provided information to the Internal Revenue Service (the "IRS") about the Defendants' allegedly illegal activities.

The parties dispute at what point Larry learned of Richard's cooperation with the IRS. At his deposition, Richard testified that, on or about May 16, 2009, while at his mother's house, he was carrying a piece of mail from the IRS that fell on the ground. Richard testified that Larry read the letter which confirmed that Richard had spoken with the IRS concerning the Defendants' allegedly illegal activities. According to Richard, Larry then confronted him and threatened to "take him down." In contrast, Larry testified at his deposition that he never saw the letter from the IRS in May of 2009 at his mother's house and never spoke to Richard about his discussions with the IRS. Larry claims that he first saw the IRS letter in June or July of 2009, during discovery in this case, but admits that he previously heard a rumor that Richard was cooperating with the IRS.

On May 26, 2009, Larry sent a letter to Richard which stated that Richard's term expired on May 26, 2009, and that he would not be reappointed. Larry testified that he did not reappoint Richard to the Committee because of, among other reasons, Richard's interview with CBS.

On July 31, 2009, Richard filed a two-count complaint against Defendants, alleging that Defendants violated his First Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Illinois Whistleblower Act, 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 174/1, by terminating his employment with the Town because he provided information to the IRS about the Defendants' allegedly illegal activities. Defendants now move for summary judgment on both of Richard's claims.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, discovery materials, disclosures, and affidavits demonstrate no genuine issue of material fact, such that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Protective Life Ins. Co. v. Hansen, 632 F.3d 388, 391-92 (7th Cir. 2011). A genuine issue of material fact exists when, based on the evidence, a reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving party. Van Antwerp v. City of Peoria, Ill., 627 F.3d 295, 297 (7th Cir. 2010). A court construes all facts and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Smith v. Hope Sch., 560 F.3d 694, 699 (7th Cir. 2009).

DISCUSSION

I. Illinois Whistleblower Act

The Illinois Whistleblower Act (the "IWA") prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency, where the employee has reasonable cause to believe that the information discloses a violation of a State or federal law, rule, or regulation. 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 174/15(b).

Defendants argue that this Court should grant summary judgment on the IWA claim because Richard does not qualify as an employee under the statute. In particular, Defendants claim that Richard was an officer and not an employee of the Town. The IWA defines "employee" as "any individual who is employed on a full-time, part-time, or contractual basis by an employer." 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 174/5. If the terms of a statute are unambiguous, the court interprets the statute by its plain meaning. Jimenez v. Quarterman, 555 U.S. 113, 118 (2009). The IWA's definition of "employee" unambiguously includes individuals employed on a contractual basis and does not exclude officers. The Town*fn2 ...

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