Saline Township 'wants to pretend' it can't be sued, plaintiffs say

Amelia Flood Oct. 7, 2010, 9:12am


Saline Township is again pushing to dismiss counts against it in a series of suits filed by women who claim a former official sexually harassed them.

The women's attorney, Thomas Maag, questioned in his response to the motion to dismiss whether the township was rehashing old arguments or pretending it can't be part of the suits.

"Perhaps recognizing that a cause of action has been stated under existing law, the defendant devotes virtually no argument or analysis to this cause of action, and wants to pretend that townships or township supervisors cannot be sued for civil rights violations," Maag wrote Sept. 29.

"Counsel for defendant opined to plaintiffs counsel that these cases were not as simple as they thought. In part, that was due to defendant's mistaken belief as to the interplay between the Illinois Public Aid Code, the Illinois Township Code, and the township supervisor's role."

Six women – Elizabeth Watkins, Jamie Miener, Melanie Hedlund, Laura Barry, Ailie Ritchie and Tara Reding – each claim that former Saline Township Supervisor Alvin Steiner groped and sexually harassed them when the women came seeking public aid.

The women claim Saline Township did not take any action against Steiner and that it allowed patterns of conduct to violate their civil rights.

The suits seek damages in excess of $50,000 per count of the suits, punitive damages, attorney's fees, costs and other relief.

The plaintiffs are suing on claims of battery, civil rights violations, Illinois Gender Violence Act violations and other grounds.

Steiner resigned from his position last year and the first suit filed by Watkins followed in January.

The defendants deny the claims.

Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth had previously granted Saline dismissal moves as to some of the plaintiffs' claims while allowing others to survive and the plaintiffs' to replead others.

A hearing on the motions to dismiss is not yet set.

In the consolidated motion to dismiss the suits, Saline Township looks to a previous finding by Ruth that determined the township was not Steiner's employer because he was an elected official.

The township also asserts that Steiner alone administered its general assistance program as required by law and that while the township could have removed him from that role, it was not legally required to.

Saline Township claims the plaintiffs only had contact with Steiner. It also claims to have absolute immunity under the Illinois Governmental Tort Immunity Act and that the statute precludes the plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages.

Saline Township questions whether the women have a civil rights violation claim at all and whether Saline Township could be held liable for it because it is not a person.

In his response, Maag also claims a defense motion is "a copy and paste," of previous arguments to throw out the claims against Saline Township.

He argues that case law in Illinois including a suit against the city of East Chicago demonstrates that governmental entities can be held liable for civil rights and sexual harassment actions.

Maag acknowledges the suits contain counts Ruth had previously tossed but writes that they are included to preserve the issues for appeal.

The most recent action in the case saw Ruth enter an agreed upon order barring Steiner and his wife, JoAnn from transferring property and other assets until the end of the suits.

Thomas and Peter Maag represent all the plaintiffs.

Lori Vanderlaan and William Knapp represent the township.

Christopher Swenson and Mark Weinheimer represent Steiner.

The Saline township cases are Madison case numbers 10-L-31, 10-L-145, 10-L-178, 10-L-219, 10-L-309, and 10-L-555.

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