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Jay Embrey and All Similarly Situated Employees of the City of Calumet City, Illinois v. the City of Calumet City

January 18, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:


Jay Embrey has sued the City of Calumet City, its Director of Purchasing and Personnel George Vallis, and current or former city aldermen Roger Munda, Nick Manousopoulos, Brian Wilson, and Edward Gonzalez (the "alderman defendants"). Embrey alleges that defendants retaliated against him for protected political activity by demoting him from Calumet City's Commissioner of Streets and Alleys to a lesser position and that they retaliated against him further for filing this lawsuit. Before the Court are two motions for summary judgment, one joined by all defendants and one joined only by the alderman defendants. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the first motion in part and postpones decision on the second.


The Court takes the following facts from the parties' memoranda of law and statements of uncontested facts. On a motion for summary judgment, the Court construes all facts favorably to the nonmoving party and makes reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Eaton v. Ind. Dep't of Corr., 657 F.3d 551, 552 (7th Cir. 2011).

Calumet City is an Illinois municipal corporation that operates pursuant to the Illinois Municipal Code. The municipality is run by a city council consisting of a mayor and seven elected aldermen, each of whom runs for election every four years. In 2009 and 2010, when the events at issue in this case occurred, the mayor was Michelle Qualkinbush, and the alderman defendants were either running for or serving on the city council. The Municipal Code provides that "[t]he mayor . . . by and with the advice and consent of the city council . . . may appoint" various public officers, including "a commissioner of public works" and "other officers necessary to carry into effect the powers conferred upon municipalities." 65 ILCS 5/3.1-30-5(a).

In May 1998, Calumet City hired Embrey as a maintenance worker in its Department of Streets and Alleys. He was promoted to foreman in the same department in 2004. On June 8, 2007, with the approval of the city council, Qualkinbush appointed Embrey to a one-year term as the Commissioner of Streets and Alleys. The position's description in the Calumet City Code was as follows: "There is hereby established the position of commissioner of streets and alleys, who shall be appointed by the mayor by and with the advice and consent of the city council." CALUMET CITY, ILL., CODE § 2-461(a) (1980).

The commissioner shall have charge of the construction and repair of all street improvements, paving, curbing, sidewalks, bridges, viaducts, subways and all other public improvements. The commissioner shall report to the city council any ordinance violation with relation to the care or use of streets, alleys or sidewalks in the city, of which he may become cognizant.

Id. § 2-462 (1980).

The parties agree that Embrey's duties as commissioner included "manag[ing] the day to day decisions which needed to be taken care of. He managed the employees, scheduled the work, supervised the work and participated in the preparation of the department's annual budget." Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 16; Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.'

L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 16. Embrey maintains that he was also responsible "for the duties of a foreman, which included payroll and scheduling." Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶

16. The parties further agree that Embrey reported directly to the mayor, though Embrey asserts that he also reported to Vallis.

Embrey was reappointed Commissioner in 2008. In 2009, Qualkinbush ran for re-election. She and Manousopoulos, Wilson, and Gonzalez, who were running for city council seats, were members of the "United to Serve You" party, and they ran as part of a slate of candidates in the February primary and April general elections. Embrey performed political work on behalf of the United to Serve You party, including putting up signs, knocking on doors, and serving as a precinct leader. The parties agree that "[a]t some point, a rift developed within the United to Serve You party in connection with the 2009 primary election." Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 36. There is some suggestion that this rift arose when Munda ran as an independent with the support of the other alderman defendants, ultimately defeating Qualkinbush's chosen candidate for Alderman of the Fifth Ward. The precise source of the tension is not material to the present motions.

Qualkinbush testified that Calumet City experienced severe financial problems in 2009, although Embrey disputes the extent of these problems. On April 27, 2009, the City Council Public Works Committee, chaired by Manousopoulos, met at City Hall to discuss city grass-cutting expenses. One topic of discussion was the potential to save money by using city employees rather than outside vendors to cut grass on public land. The precise chronology and content of the communication between Manousopoulos and Embrey on this matter is disputed. The parties generally agree, however, that Manousopoulos suggested bringing the grass cutting in-house and that Embrey -- whose employees would be implicated by this change -- voiced uncertainty regarding whether this would be feasible or desirable, leading to some degree of tension between the two.

At some point in 2009, Qualkinbush proposed to combine the Streets and Alleys Department with the Sewer and Water Department under a single commissioner. The former Commissioner of Sewer and Water was retiring. In July 2009, the city council adopted an appropriations ordinance for 2009-2010, which created the position of "Commissioner of Streets, Alleys, Water and Sewer." Qualkinbush supported Embrey for this position. The ordinance also affected the position of streets and alleys foreman, which Embrey had held before becoming commissioner. Defendants argue that the position was eliminated and replaced with a new position of deputy commissioner. Embrey maintains that the ordinance simply changed the position's title from foreman to deputy commissioner without changing its responsibilities. In early September 2009, Manousopoulos ...

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