Another woman claims Saline Township supervisor sexually harassed her

Kelly Holleran Jun. 3, 2010, 8:00am

EDWARDSVILLE -- Another Madison County woman has stepped forward, claiming a Saline Township supervisor attempted to elicit sexual favors from her in return for rent assistance.

Tara M. Reding is the sixth woman to filed a lawsuit in Madison County Circuit Court against Saline Township and its supervisor Alvin P. Steiner.

The latest of the six suits was filed May 21.

The first was filed by plaintiff Elizabeth Watkins in January. Plaintiffs Jamie Miener, Melanie Hedlund, Laura Barry and Ailie Ritchie followed suit.

The allegations in all five complaints are nearly identical. All five plaintiffs claim that they sought assistance from the township to help pay for utility and other bills. They claim that Steiner groped them, tried to kiss them, and otherwise behaved in offensive ways.

Watkins' complaint alleges that Steiner masturbated in front of her. The complaint also alleges that Steiner threatened her to scare her from reporting him.

The suits seek damages in excess of $50,000 and attorney's fees.

In her complaint, Reding describes herself as "needy" and says she visited Saline Township for financial assistance.

"That in about or after January 2008, continuing through and including November, 2009, Steiner, after determining that Plaintiff was desperate and in a weak position, when she was applying for benefits, placed his arms around Plaintiff, and grabbed her rear and breasts, and attempted to kiss her," the suit states. "That on and each and every incident, Plaintiff attempted to rebuff Steiner's conduct, and did not consent in any way."

Steiner allegedly threatened to revoke Watkins' rental assistance if she told anyone about his conduct, the complaint states.

Until November, Reding continued to require rental assistance and remained forced to deal with Steiner to obtain her money, the complaint says. All the while, Steiner allegedly continued to place his arms around Reding, to feel her rear and breasts and to attempt to kiss her, she claims.

"On at least one occasion Steiner removed his pants and attempted to show certain parts of his body normally covered by pants to Plaintiff," the suit states. "That on numerous occasions through and including November, 2009, when Plaintiff would appear to receive her rent assistance from Saline Township, Steiner would request sexual contact with Plaintiff, and would state to Plaintiff words intended by Plaintiff to imply that if she resisted his unwelcome advances or reported the conduct to others, that Steiner would cause Plaintiff's rent assistance to be terminated."

Eventually, on Nov. 15, Steiner resigned from his post as township supervisor.

During Steiner's reign, though, Saline negligently failed to place safeguards to monitor Steiner's conduct, allowed Steiner to rearrange his office so that visitors requesting assistance could not exit without seeing Steiner, failed to provide any supervision of Steiner, allowed Steiner to continue to deal with women on its premises, failed to institute procedures to remove Steiner from his position and failed to limit the amount of time Steiner was allowed to spend alone with females, according to the complaint.

Saline Township filed a motion to see at least five complaints against it thrown out.

In its May 20 motion to dismiss, Saline Township wants Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth to throw out the counts of the suits that pertain to it.

It argues that it is both immune to the claims as a township and that it is not liable as Steiner's superior because he was an elected official and that his actions are outside the scope of his employment.

The township contends that Illinois law holds that an elected official is not considered to be in an employment relationship with the governmental entity that person serves.

Saline Township points to its inability to fire Steiner as an elected official as evidence of its lack of control over him and his actions.

It also points to statements in the amended complaints where the plaintiffs specifically state Steiner was acting outside of his normal duties.

The township also cites its immunity under the state Tort Immunity Act.

In her eight-count lawsuit, Reding seeks compensatory damages of more than $250,000 and compensatory and punitive damages of more than $150,000, plus costs and other relief the court deems appropriate.

Peter J. Maag of Maag Law Firm in Edwardsville will be representing her.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 10-L-555

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