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Boswell v. City of Chicago

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

December 20, 2016

ANTHONY O. BOSWELL, Plaintiff-Appellant,
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 14 L 4809 The Honorable Brigid Mary McGrath, Judge, presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE HYMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Neville concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Simon dissented, with opinion.



         ¶ 1 Plaintiff Anthony Boswell, the former executive director of the City of Chicago's (City) office of compliance, resigned from his position in 2010. Later, he sued the City for breach of contract and promissory estoppel, which claims the trial court dismissed. We reverse. Because the City formed a contract with Boswell through the municipal ordinance creating the executive director position, the trial court erred in dismissing the complaint. Further, Boswell may proceed with his promissory estoppel claim (pled in the alternative to his breach of contract claim).

         ¶ 2 The City would prefer to consider Boswell's lawsuit in isolation, without reference to the Shakman litigation challenging the City's past employment practices. But that is not possible. The context of the municipal ordinance at issue and the hiring of Boswell relate directly to that epic litigation, with this case serving as yet another sordid episode in a long, tangled, and distinctly Chicago saga.

         ¶ 3 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 Several decades ago, the City of Chicago was sued in an attempt to eradicate its entrenched reliance on patronage and nepotism in hiring. Ongoing since the 1970s, this series of lawsuits is known as the Shakman litigation. See generally Tomczak v. City of Chicago, 765 F.2d 633, 635-36 (1985) (describing history of Shakman litigation). A consent decree finally resolved the litigation, with the City agreeing to eliminate political considerations from employment decisions. The federal court appointed a "hiring monitor" to ensure compliance and report any non-compliance. In a move to obviate the need for the hiring monitor, the City eventually submitted a hiring plan covering many aspects of City employment, including the establishment of an independent "Office of Compliance" to oversee hiring.

         ¶ 5 In late 2007, the City named plaintiff Anthony Boswell as executive director of the office of compliance. In January 2008, the federal district court adopted the City's hiring plan, which involved Boswell's selection to head the office of compliance. The federal court observed that Boswell had no connection to the City or its politics, had been appointed for a fixed term of office, and could not be removed except for cause.

         ¶ 6 Boswell served in that job until his resignation on March 29, 2010. On May 1, 2014, Boswell filed his complaint against the City, which he later amended to allege two causes of action-breach of contract and promissory estoppel. (A claim of fraud was voluntarily dismissed.)

         ¶ 7 Boswell's Factual Allegations

         ¶ 8 Boswell's second amended complaint alleged that, though the City had promised during the interview stage to refrain from any interference with his work, it actually placed a number of obstacles in his way and retaliated against him for performing his job well, leading to his resignation from the position two years later.

         ¶ 9 Boswell alleges that the City recruited Boswell in 2007 because of his background in legal compliance. During the initial telephone interviews, City officials told Boswell that the City was committed to "doing things the right way" and establishing an independent office. During in-person interviews, those officials promised Boswell that the office would be kept "independent from political pressures" and fully supported by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. When Boswell met with Daley, the mayor expressed vehement dissatisfaction with the amount of money the City was paying the federal hiring monitor. The mayor's press secretary told Boswell that it was for this reason the office of compliance was created-to take on the role of the federal hiring monitor.

         ¶ 10 Boswell started working as director in January 2008. Though he undertook to attentively carry out his job duties, the City directed "resistance and hostility" toward his work, subjecting him to "a campaign of petty and overt harassment." As an example, just three months into the position, Boswell's office filed a complaint against the City's law department regarding its hiring practices, specifically, that the corporation counsel attempted to manipulate hiring and promote an unqualified employee. The City ignored the complaint, and in July 2008, Boswell's office filed another complaint. The mayor's office then reprimanded Boswell for filing it because, Boswell alleged, the City "never intended to end nepotism and favoritism in hiring."

         ¶ 11 In retaliation, according to Boswell, the City's office of inspector general issued a report in January 2010 questioning Boswell's handling of a sexual harassment complaint, despite concluding the complaint in question was unsubstantiated. Though Daley had told Boswell that he had little confidence in the inspector general's work, the mayor accepted the Inspector General's report and suspended Boswell for 30 days without pay.

         ¶ 12 During Boswell's suspension, the City made several changes to the office of compliance, transferring half of the staff and duties to other City departments. After Boswell returned from the suspension, he learned that the City had fired his first deputy director. The City also "continued to bully and undermine" Boswell, including "trump[ing] up false accusations" against him. On March 29, 2010, a little over two years after his hiring, Boswell resigned, alleging that he was "constructively terminated" because he "had no choice but to resign from his position." He further alleged that after the termination, the City fed false allegations to the press about him that harmed his ability to find another job and tried to prevent him from gaining unemployment benefits.

         ¶ 13 The City filed a combined motion to dismiss the complaint under sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure. 735 ILCS 5/2-619.1 (West 2014). On March 3, 2015, ...

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