Lincolnshire settles lawsuit tied to right-to-work ordinance

  • Labor union members filled Lincolnshire's village hall in December 2015 for a debate about a controversial right-to-work ordinance. A lawsuit concerning that ordinance has been settled.

      Labor union members filled Lincolnshire's village hall in December 2015 for a debate about a controversial right-to-work ordinance. A lawsuit concerning that ordinance has been settled. Russell Lissau | Staff Photographer 2015

 
 
Updated 11/16/2016 6:37 AM

Lincolnshire officials have settled one of the lawsuits stemming from the village board's adoption of a controversial right-to-work ordinance late last year.

Plaintiffs Robert J. Gillengerten of Antioch and Bradley J. Levy of Berwyn accused village officials of violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act by creating politically based rules for public comments during a Dec. 14 discussion of the proposed ordinance, which critics have called anti-union.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Gillengerten and Levy are labor union members who attended the board meeting because of the right-to-work plan.

They said Mayor Elizabeth Brandt closed public comment even though many people who wanted to speak against the proposal were obviously waiting to do so. They filed their lawsuit in February in Lake County circuit court.

Gillengerten and Levy will be paid a total of $10,000 as part of the settlement, which the village board approved Monday night.

The sum will be covered by the Liberty Justice Center, the legal team that represented the village in the case at no charge.

"I insisted every step along the way, that a settlement to these groundless accusations be made at no expense to residents of the village of Lincolnshire, and we are happy to report the settlement will be with no village funds being spent," Trustee Tom McDonough said.

Brandt said trustees voted to settle the case so they wouldn't "waste more time on the frivolous, nuisance lawsuit."

Under the settlement, Lincolnshire officials also agreed to change the rules for public comment at village board meetings. A clause in the public comment rules that ensured equal time for people who were in favor and against a given issue has been removed.

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Also deleted was a clause that said the board wasn't required to allow every person to speak if comments representing each side of an issue already were made.

The settlement also formally ends a complaint that Brandt and McDonough may have violated state ethics law by using the village's email system to discuss a Republican Party event in Vernon Township. The complaint was filed by representatives of the International Union of Operating Engineers who reviewed village emails after approval of the right-to-work ordinance.

The village's appointed ethics officer, attorney Larry Luzerne, cleared Brandt and McDonough in the matter. His investigation showed Brandt never discussed the event using her village email account and McDonough's emails didn't violate the law.

The complainants then took the issue to Lake County circuit court.

A separate lawsuit challenging the legality of the right-to-work ordinance remains in federal court. That lawsuit was filed by four labor unions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The ordinance at the heart of both legal fights allows employees at private-sector companies in Lincolnshire to refuse to have union dues or fees automatically deducted from their paychecks.

Gov. Bruce Rauner pushed for right-to-work zones as part of his Turnaround Agenda, but Lincolnshire is the only town in the Chicago area to adopt such an ordinance.

In a formal opinion issued last year, Attorney General Lisa Madigan said federal labor law allows such policies to be enacted only on a statewide basis. Lawyers from the Liberty Justice Center -- a group associated with a nonprofit organization called the Illinois Policy Institute that has championed right-to-work legislation -- is representing Lincolnshire in that case, too.

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