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Johnson v. Village of Dolton

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

March 27, 2013

VILLAGE OF DOLTON, an Illinois municipal corporation, and MAYOR RONNIE LEWIS, in his individual capacity, Defendants

For Angela Johnson, Plaintiff: Terence J Moran, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kalman D. Resnick, Karyn L Bass Ehler, Mark Alan Cisek, Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd., Chicago, IL.

For Village of Dolton, an Illinois municipal corporation, Ronnie Lewis, Mayor, in his individual capacity, Defendants: Gregory T. Mitchell, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kimberly M. Mitchell, Law Office of Gregory T. Mitchell, P.C., Homewood, IL; Darcee Corinne Williams, Scariano, Himes and Petrarca, Chicago, IL.


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REBECCA R. PALLMEYER, United States District Judge.


Plaintiff Angela Johnson worked for the Village of Dolton as Village Fire Inspector until her termination in December 2010. In this lawsuit, Johnson contends she was terminated for political reasons--specifically, her support for a slate of candidates for Board of Trustees favored by the Mayor's political rival. Defendants, the Village and its Mayor, Ronnie Lewis, have moved for summary judgment, arguing that the undisputed facts demonstrate that the Village's financial difficulties and Johnson's poor job performance, not politics, were the reasons for her discharge. For the reasons explained briefly here, the motion is denied.


William " Bill" Shaw was Mayor of the Village of Dolton from 1997 until his death from cancer in November 2008. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. [41] ¶ 2.) In May 2000, Plaintiff approached Mayor Shaw on the street to ask him to help her get a job with the Chicago Transit Authority. ( Id. ¶ 8.) Instead, Mayor Shaw appointed Plaintiff to the position of Fire Inspector for the Village, a position for which Plaintiff had no prior training or experience. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 5, 9-10.) Johnson was not certified as a firefighter, and Mayor Shaw instructed the Village's Fire Chief, Jerry McCollough, that despite her Fire Inspector title, the Chief should not assign any fire inspection duties to Johnson because she answered only to the Mayor. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 10, 11.)

Ronnie Lewis became Acting Mayor upon Mayor Shaw's death, and then was elected to the position in April 2009. ( Id. ¶ 12.) During 2009, Johnson performed fire inspections, but had no direct supervisor assigning work to her. (Johnson Dep., Ex. 5 to Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. [30-1], at 27, 28.) In October or November of that year, after Bert Herzog was appointed as Village Administrator, Herzog met with Plaintiff to discuss her job responsibilities and work schedule. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 14.) Herzog also met with the Fire Chief, Jerry McCollough, who told him that Johnson had previously reported only to Mayor Shaw and that although he (McCollough) met with Johnson occasionally, she did not directly report to him. (McCollough Dep., Ex. 14 to Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. [33-4], at 34-35.) McCollough later told Herzog that Plaintiff had never been certified as a fire inspector, though she had taken a class and failed it twice. (Pl.'s 56.1 Resp. ¶ 16.) In her tenure as the Village's Fire Inspector,

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Johnson issued just one citation to a Village business, a local night club. ( Id. ¶ 36.)

When he learned that Johnson had not been certified as a fire inspector and had not been observed doing any fire inspection work over an extended period, Herzog spoke to Mayor Lewis about temporarily reassigning Johnson to work as a housing inspector in the Village's Housing Department. ( Id. ¶ 20.) Defendants assert that during this temporary reassignment, Johnson was to do only housing inspections, and perform no work for the Fire Department. ( Id. ¶ 23.) Defendants' Statement of Facts also asserts, however, that when Herzog advised Chief McCollough about the decision to reassign Johnson, Herzog assured McCollough that Johnson could continue to help out with fire inspections on occasion, and McCollough asked about the possibility that Johnson might again get training for the work of fire inspection. ( Id. ¶ 21.) [1] McCollough testified that after her reassignment to the Housing Department, he " saw less and less and less" of Johnson, but he acknowledged that after her reassignment, " there was a period of time where . . . [Johnson] was doing both fire inspections and housing inspections . . . ." (McCollough Dep. at 46.) The court concludes that whether or not Johnson was expected to devote herself full time to the Housing Department is disputed.

whet is undisputed are the reasons for the reassignment. In September 2009, the Village of Dolton faced a financial crisis. Mayor Lewis reviewed all Village job positions and decided that the Fire Inspector position could be eliminated and the duties reassigned to the Fire Chief. ( Id. ¶ 38.) Billy Morgan, the Director of the Housing Department, had advised Herzog that two housing inspectors were expected to retire soon, and the Department had a backlog of inspections to complete. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 40, 41.) Johnson admits that Mayor Lewis assigned her to the Housing Department in order to " find something for her to do that would help the village fill a void without terminating her." ( Id. ¶ 22.) In that Department, Morgan was Johnson's direct supervisor. ( Id. ¶ 25.) [2] Herzog did not tell Morgan that Johnson's reassignment was temporary ( id. ¶ 39), and it is undisputed that at some point it was expected that Johnson would be formally moved to the Housing Department. ( Id. ¶ 24.)

In her new position, Johnson was required to work Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and received housing inspection assignments from the Department's administrative assistant, Yolanda Dyson. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 42, 43.) Johnson received training from mid-January 2010 through February 2010. ( Id. ΒΆ 45.) In about March or April 2010, Ms. Dyson advised Billy Morgan that Johnson did not return to work after completing her Housing Department assignments; Plaintiff does not deny this, but she explains that after completing her inspections, she returned to Village Hall to relieve the Mayor's secretary from 2:00 until 3:30 ...

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