Lawsuit: Avon Township firings were political
Three Avon Township assessor's office employees were fired because of the political candidates they supported in last year's election, a federal lawsuit claims.
And another one retired because she thought she would be fired for the same reason, the suit contends.
Assessor Bryce Carus took over for Rick Dishman on Jan. 1. The suit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, says the fired workers supported Dishman and former township Supervisor Shirley Christian, both of whom lost in last April's election.
"It's both unconstitutional and unlawful," said lawyer Keith Hunt, who represents the former assessor's office workers. "These people have a right to support whoever they want in an election."
Carus, new township Supervisor Sam Yingling and the township were named in the suit seeking reinstatement of the four employees to their jobs and lost pay. Yingling said the township has yet to be served the lawsuit, but he issued a statement based on the known accusations.
"We believe this is simply another example of the former administration's sense that the function of the township is to serve only them," the township's statement said, "and we will respond appropriately once the township has been fully apprised of the situation."
According to the complaint, William Rust, Penelope Heckel and Dishman's brother, Michael, were told by Yingling on Dec. 30 they would be sacked. The suit contends Yingling lacked authority under state law to initiate assessor's office firings as township supervisor.
Yingling also had the assessor's office locks changed Dec. 30, according to the lawsuit.
Rust, Heckel and Michael Dishman reported to work at 7:50 a.m. Monday because they did not believe they were properly terminated. Unable to enter the building, the three employees were outside when Carus arrived at 8:10 a.m. Monday, which Hunt said was past the posted 8 a.m. opening time for the assessor's office. Carus told the employees they were fired, the suit states.
Janice Roth, another employee in the lawsuit who supported Rick Dishman, contends she retired from her Avon Township assessor's office job because she reasonably believed Carus and Yingling would dump her last month. She was in the office for 15 years.
"Roth had no intention to retire as of January 2010 but for the unlawful and threatened termination by Carus and Yingling," the lawsuit states. "Roth was simply unable to afford to be terminated or be without a stream of income and therefore elected to accept retirement in an effort to mitigate her damages."
Dishman, who was part of Christian's political slate, began publicly tangling with Yingling and other opponents on the new five-member township board in May. Only board member William McNeill was on the same political team as Dishman.
One of the fights involved Dishman's plan to spend about $3,000 in taxpayer money so he and Heckel could attend a Miami convention in October, about 90 days before he left office. Dishman never went on the trip, and the township received refunds for all but $478 spent on two airline tickets.
In the lawsuit, Carus is accused of hiring employees in December without having proper authority to do so because he did not yet officially hold office. The suit states the only assessor's office employee who backed Carus in the election remains on the job.
First Amendment rights violations, political discrimination, due process violations and conspiracy are alleged in the suit.
Avon Township includes all or part of Grayslake, Hainesville, Third Lake and the Round Lake area.