Jackson County man sues Illinois Secretary of State office over termination

Kelly Holleran Aug. 24, 2010, 1:16am

A Jackson County man claims the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State wrongly discharged him from his job as an investigator after finding him to be deeply depressed.

Jeffrey Block filed a lawsuit Aug. 13 in St. Clair County Circuit Court against the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State and against Michael Pippin.

Block claims the office fired him on July 16, 2007, after he had worked as an investigator on its police force for nearly 20 years.
Block's troubles began long before his termination, according to his complaint.

Beginning on April 5, 2006, Block's supervisor and friend, Lieutenant Robert Wingo, came to his house to borrow his squad car, the suit states. While there, Wingo allegedly revealed he had been having a sexual relationship with a co-investigator and he feared she would file a sexual harassment complaint against him, the complaint says.

Wingo allegedly asked Block to concoct false stories so he could win any case of sexual harassment against him, Block claims.

"Plaintiff did not take any action in support of Lt. Wingo's request to fabricate false cover stories but hoped that Lt. Wingo would reconsider before taking any overt action in support of his scheme," the suit states.

On Sept. 4, 2006, Wingo asked Block to watch his children while he participated in a sporting event, according to the complaint. He also told Block he would be taking his children to a hotel the following night -- the same night he was supposed to be working a "hireback" shift, the complaint says.

"Plaintiff subsequently determined that Lt. Wingo was not working on Sept. 8, 2006, when he was supposed to be working -- and that he billed the State of Illinois both for the hireback shift and the motel," the suit states.

Block claims he decided to report Wingo and the events of Sept. 8, 2006, to the director of police and to the senior inspector on Sept. 12, 2006. In addition, he met with an inspector from the inspector general's office and warned him of the possibility that Wingo would kill himself, his wife and his children if his superiors decided to fire him, according to the complaint.

On Sept. 25, 2006, the Office of the Illinois Secretary placed Wingo on suspension pending termination. Two days later, Wingo killed himself, the complaint says.

Following Wingo's suicide, Block's ex-wife filed a complaint against him, alleging he had improperly come to her St. Clair County home, Block claims.

At Pippin's orders, Block's superiors allegedly began interrogating him without notifying him they had placed him under investigation -- a violation of the Uniform Peace Officers' Disciplinary Act, according to the complaint.

"Not only did Defendant OISOS fail to 'reasonably apprise the officer of the nature of the investigation' by its omissions from the Nov. 15, 2006, notice of interrogation; it also actively misled Plaintiff by informing him that the sole basis of the interrogation was alleged poor work performance and intentionally concealed the material fact that the interrogation was in fact triggered by a complaint submitted by Plaintiff's ex-wife," the suit states.

On Nov. 21, 2006, investigators placed Block on paid administrative leave and ordered him to undergo an independent medical examination through a psychiatrist they hired, the suit states.

On April 3, 2007, the psychiatrist concluded that Block suffered from a major depressive disorder, but one that should not affect his work performance, the complaint says.

Despite the fact that the psychiatrist concluded Block could still work, Block's supervisors provided him with a proposed discharge letter and gave him four days to file a rebuttal. Block claims he filed the rebuttal calling attention to his friend's death and the extreme stress the incident had placed him under.

Still, on July 16, 2007, the Office of the Illinois Secretary discharged Block from employment, according to the complaint.

Block grieved his discharge, but an arbitrator upheld it, the suit states.

Block claims he never should have been fired because investigators never informed him that he was under investigation. In addition, he claims his supervisors fired him in retaliation for his report of Wingo's behavior.

In his complaint, Block is seeking compensatory damages, including lost wages, benefits, mental anguish and emotional distress; liquidated damages worth two times the amount of lost wages; and that OISOS be required to rehire Block. He also seeks costs and other relief the court deems just.

Richard J. Whitney of Speir and Whitney in Carbondale will be representing him.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 10-L-415.

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