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Pierce v. Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water Dist.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 20, 2012

Peggy PIERCE, Isaac Turner, Marcus Luster, and Dennis Traiteur, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMONFIELDS OF CAHOKIA PUBLIC WATER DISTRICT, Marilyn Stringfellow, Carolyn Touchette, Mike Millatti, and Erma Millard, Defendants.

Page 744

Jarrod P. Beasley, Kuehn Law Firm, Belleville, IL, Greg E. Roosevelt, Roosevelt Law Office, Edwardsville, IL, for Plaintiffs.

Isaac Turner, Alorton, IL, pro se.

Marcus Luster, Centreville, IL, pro se.

Julie A. Bruch, Benjamin Jacobi, Bhairav Radia, Karin Anderson, O'Halloran, Kosoff et al., Northbrook, IL, Clay B. St. Clair, Mark C. Scoggins, Crowder & Scoggins, Columbia, IL, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

WILLIAMS, United States Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Supporting Memorandum (Doc. 77). Specifically, Defendants seek summary judgment on all the claims of Plaintiffs Peggy Pierce, Isaac Turner, Marcus Luster, and Dennis Traiteur, Jr. Plaintiff Dennis Traiteur, Jr. has filed a Response (Docs. 79, 80, & 81) in opposition to the summary judgment. Plaintiff Peggy Pierce has also filed a Response in opposition; however, the Court has since been informed that Plaintiff Pierce has settled her claims with Defendants

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and as such the Court excludes her from the summary judgment motion. Plaintiffs Isaac Turner and Marcus Luster have failed to respond to the pending summary judgment motion. Based on the following, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 77).

II. Factual Background

Plaintiffs Peggy Pierce, Isaac Turner, Marcus Luster, and Dennis Traiteur, Jr., filed suit against Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water District (hereinafter " Commonfields" ) as former employees (Doc. 2-1). Counts I-IV allege Plaintiffs were retaliated against for their political affiliation, and that this violated their freedom of speech under the First Amendment and their right to equal protection ( Id. ). These same federal claims are also brought against the individual defendants Marilyn Stringfellow, Carolyn Touchette, Erma Millard, and Mike Millatti. Count IX of Plaintiffs' Complaint is brought specifically by Traiteur, Jr. for a state law breach of contract claim against Commonfields. Counts X-XI, brought by Plaintiffs Turner and Luster are also state law breach of contract claims. On February 29, 2012, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 77). Plaintiff Pierce and Traiteur, Jr. have filed responses (Docs. 82, 83, 84 and 79, 80, 81, respectively). Defendants have filed reply briefs to both responses (Docs. 90 & 89, respectively). To this date, Plaintiffs Luster and Turner have failed to file responsive pleadings.

This action stems from the September 9, 2009 termination of Plaintiffs' employment by Defendants. Defendant Traiteur, Sr. is the general manager of Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water District (Doc. 77-1 at p. 22). The general manager has the authority to employ, discharge, and fix the compensation of all employees ( Id. at p. 23). Traiteur, Sr. acknowledged that everyone was hired for political reasons ( Id. at p. 77). The general manager is required to give the board a budget containing all operating expenses, and the board has to pass the budget before it is accepted ( Id. at pp. 77). The budgets or amended budgets have to be voted on by the board during a meeting ( Id. at pp. 82-83).

Marilyn Stringfellow was elected to the board of trustees for Commonfields in 2007 (Doc. 77-3 at p. 8). In the election of 2009, Stringfellow campaigned for Evans, Jones, and Bergman who were unsuccessful ( Id. at pp. 9-10). According to Carolyn Touchette, Peggy Pierce, Denny Traiteur, Sr., and Denny Traiteur, Jr. campaigned for those candidates as well (Doc. 77-5 at p. 21). Carolyn Touchette was elected to the board in 2009 with Erma Millard and Mike Millatti ( Id. at p. 11). Employee Angie Kritz campaigned for Touchette, Millatti, and Millard ( Id. at p. 21). After being elected, the board members eliminated certain positions allegedly to " get ahold of the budget." (Doc. 77-3 at p. 17). The board relied on statements made by Dennis Traiteur, Sr. Regarding the budget deficit because he would not provide documents for the board to view (Doc. 77-5 at p. 50; Doc. 77-3 at pp. 21-22).

Dennis Traiteur, Jr. was hired by Commonfields on April 27, 2009 (Doc. 77-4 at p. 8). Traiteur, Jr. was hired by his father Dennis Traiteur, Sr. without board approval (Doc. 77-1 at p. 26). Prior to being hired by his father, Traiteur, Jr. had no experience with wastewater or supervisory skills. (Doc. 77-4 at pp. 37-38). Traiteur, Jr. entered into a two year contract of employment with Commonfields with the contract to run from April 27, 2009 to April 27, 2011 (Doc. 71 Ex. A). Under the employment contract he could only be fired for " just cause" ( Id. at p. 2). Traiteur, Jr.'s official title was " Assistant Superintendent"

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and his official job description was:

Directs and supervises the operation and maintenance of the Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water District's water and wastewater distribution system. Serves as the first line supervisor for all employees working in the Water and Wastewater Distribution Division. Reports directly to the Superintendent and/or General Manager.

(Doc. 80 Ex. A; Doc. 77-4 at p. 8). Traiteur, Jr. was discharged from employment with Commonfields when his position was eliminated by the board through Resolution # 62 (Doc. 80-2).

III. Summary Judgment Standard

Under FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 56, summary judgment is proper only if the moving party can demonstrate " that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). See also Ruffin-Thompkins v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., 422 F.3d 603, 607 (7th Cir.2005). The burden is upon the moving party to establish that no material facts are in genuine dispute; any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue must be resolved against the moving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 160, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). See also Lawrence v. Kenosha County, 391 F.3d 837, 841 (7th Cir.2004). A fact is material if it is outcome determinative under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Ballance v. City of Springfield, Illinois Police Department, 424 F.3d 614, 616 (7th Cir.2005); Hottenroth v. Village of Slinger, 388 F.3d 1015, 1027 (7th Cir.2004). Even if the facts are not ...


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