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updated: 2/8/2018 6:57 PM

Former Pingree Grove public works director sues over 2017 firing

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A former public works director for Pingree Grove is suing the village and its president, arguing he was wrongfully fired because he refused to falsify a subordinate's application for a key certification from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Joseph Caveny argues his firing violated the Illinois Whistleblower's Act and was retaliatory. Caveny argues in his lawsuit that Village President Steve Wiedmeyer pressured Caveny to sign an EPA certification for Public Works Foreman Pat Doherty in November 2016.

Caveny said Doherty did not have enough "hands on" experience for a Community Water Supply Operator Certification and if Caveny pushed the certification through, it could jeopardize his own EPA license, the suit states.

Supervisors who make "false, fictitious or fraudulent" statements to the EPA can be charged with felony perjury, the lawsuit notes.

The village board voted Feb. 1, 2017, to fire Caveny for "convenience" and not a "disciplinary action," and spelled out a two-phase increase in pay for Doherty as interim public works director, the suit states.

The second pay increase Doherty was to receive was when he completed classes for the license Caveny already had. A message left for Dennis Favaro, an attorney for Caveny, was not immediately returned.

"Wiedmeyer, as an officer and agent of the village, caused the board of trustees (to) fire Caveny because he refused to commit perjury as well as violations of the Environmental Protection Act," the suit argues. "Caveny believed certifying that Doherty had sufficient hours of experience to the EPA would have been illegal."

A message seeking comment from Wiedmeyer was returned by Village Attorney Dean Frieders, who disputed Caveny's allegations in the lawsuit, saying they were false and the village would vigorously defend itself.

Frieders noted Caveny was an "at will" employee and the board did not terminate him for any disciplinary reasons.

"At no time did any village official even suggest any unlawful act," Frieders said. "We believe the allegations are untrue and the board indicated the separation was for convenience and it was not a disciplinary matter."

Frieders said Doherty, who is now public works director, has since earned the water plant operator license that is the subject of the lawsuit.

Caveny seeks damages in excess of $100,000 for lost past and future wages and emotional distress, according to the lawsuit.

The two sides are due in court April 17.

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