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Raymond E. Soto v. the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners of the City of

March 21, 2013

RAYMOND E. SOTO,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
THE BOARD OF FIRE AND POLICE COMMISSIONERS OF THE CITY OF ST. CHARLES, ILLINOIS, AND ITS MEMBERS, JAMES N. URHAUSEN, CRAIG A. LIVERMORE, DONALD L. HAINES, AND SANDRA S. WRIGHT,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 11-MR-556 Thomas E. Mueller, Honorable Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Jorgensen

JUSTICE JORGENSEN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Burke and Justice Hudson concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Plaintiff, Raymond E. Soto, appeals the trial court's May 22, 2012, decision affirming the decision of defendant, the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners of the City of St. Charles (Board), to rescind the Board's offer of a full-time firefighter position to plaintiff. Plaintiff requests that we reverse the trial court and remand for further proceedings or discovery. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 In February 2004, Soto began working for the St. Charles fire department as a paid, on-call firefighter and paramedic. On October 24, 2008, Soto filed an application for a full-time firefighter position. The 12-page application for employment reflects that Soto served eight years in the United States Marine Corps, and was honorably discharged therefrom in February 2000. Thereafter, Soto obtained an associate's degree in nursing, received training in "CPR, paramedic, pediatric advanced life support, international trauma life support, [and] advanced cardiac life support," and held a "paramedic, firefighter II" professional license. The application also reflects that Soto took civil service exams for fire departments in Carpentersville and Sugar Grove, but that the Sugar Grove list had expired. The application asked whether Soto was ever placed on a civil service list and then subsequently either not hired or rejected. He answered "no."

¶ 4 The application included a section requesting Soto's employment history for the past 10 years, with his present and most recent jobs to be listed first. Soto listed two jobs as being presently held, with First Care Ambulance Service and the St. Charles fire department, followed by six former positions. Soto listed eight references and wrote a statement that "the challenges and rewards I have experienced serving the city of St. Charles [have] given me a sense of pride I have not felt since my military service. I have dedicated my efforts to achieving the training and licenses to become an asset to the team and community I have the privilege to serve." Finally, Soto submitted to the Board his resume, which listed the following as his three most recent employers: Elgin Medi Transport Inc. (paramedic from "7/10 - Present"), the St. Charles fire department, and First Care Ambulance Service.

¶ 5 Also in the fall of 2008, Soto took the Board's written examination for full-time firefighterparamedic employment. Before those results were posted, on May 6, 2009, the Board interviewed Soto regarding the full-time firefighter position. On June 1, 2009, the Board posted the final eligibility register: Soto placed third out of 19 candidates, with a score of 97.015.*fn1

¶ 6 On May 19, 2011, the City of St. Charles eliminated its paid, on-call program. However, on May 23, 2011, the Board offered Soto a probationary appointment as a firefighter paramedic, "conditioned upon successfully passing" a psychological examination, background investigation, medical examination, functional capacity evaluation, and drug screen. The offer letter advised Soto that the starting salary for the position was $53,962, and enclosed were forms for him to complete and bring with him to his orientation. "Your start date will be determined and is specifically conditioned upon passage of all the aforementioned examinations." Soto was advised that he would be contacted by Denice Brogan of the City's human resources department to schedule postoffer testing, confirm the start date, and coordinate his orientation.

¶ 7 On June 16, 2011, Detective Andrew Lamela wrote a memorandum regarding his background investigation of Soto. That memorandum and accompanying documentation in the record reflects that Soto has no criminal history. Further, Soto received multiple medals and commendations in the Marine Corps.

¶ 8 Lamela briefly summarized that in February 2010 Soto was interviewed by the Geneva police department after he had allowed a friend's adult daughter, who was intoxicated, to spend the night at his house. Soto and the woman went to sleep in separate rooms; at some point, however, the two slept, fully clothed, in the same bed. The next day, the woman went to the hospital for unexplained bruises and pain and bleeding in her rectal area. The woman "was insistent that she was not accusing Soto of performing a sex act upon her," but she could not explain her injuries. The woman never accused Soto of sexual assault and later became uncooperative. Soto confirmed that there was no sexual contact between himself and the woman, and he was cooperative with questioning. No charges were filed against him.

¶ 9 On June 16, 2011, Lamela interviewed Soto regarding the position. He noted that Soto's "appearance was casual." Lamela reviewed with Soto his credit and military history, and they discussed why Soto wished to be a firefighter. They further discussed the aforementioned Geneva police report; Soto noted that (despite no charges having been filed) he had informed his supervisor at the St. Charles fire department of the incident. Lamela's report next states: "I asked [Soto] if he was going to continue to work at First Care Ambulance if he was hired with the St. Charles Fire Department. [Soto] stated that he would resign from First Care Ambulance if he was hired full time with the St. Charles Fire Department. I advised that I had no further questions for [Soto] and ended the interview."

¶ 10 Lamela's June 16, 2011, memorandum summarized his interviews with three of Soto's neighbors and, on September 21, 2011, Lamela amended his report to include summaries of additional interviews he conducted with persons who know Soto. We summarize below the interviews from both reports:

NAME RELATIONSHIP COMMENTS

1 Dawn Vance Neighbor Has known Soto for six years. Soto is very friendly, respectful, and always willing to help his neighbors. Soto helped Vance install a new shed door. He is very proud of his military service. Soto has never caused any trouble in the neighborhood, Vance is happy to have Soto as a neighbor, and she had nothing negative to say about him.

2 Ron Vial Neighbor Does not know Soto personally, but has seen him in the neighborhood. Soto has never caused any problems in the neighborhood, and Vial had nothing negative to say about him.

3 Scott McNees Neighbor Does not know Soto personally, but has seen him in the neighborhood and they exchange greetings. Soto has never caused any problems in the neighborhood, and McNees had nothing negative to say about him.

4 Greg Present employer Has supervised Soto for one year. When asked if Ingraham and Supervisor/ he had ...


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