Ruth dismisses multiple counts against Saline Township in sexual battery suits

Amelia Flood Jan. 24, 2011, 11:13am


Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth has thrown out a number of claims against Saline Township in six sexual battery cases brought against it by women claiming a former official harassed them.

The six plaintiffs – Elizabeth Watkins, Jamie Meiner, Melanie Hedlund, Laura Barry, Ailie Ritchie, and Tara Reding – are suing Saline Township and former Township Supervisor Alvin Steiner for damages in excess of $50,000 per count in six nearly identical 2010 lawsuits.

The women allege that Steiner sexually harassed and groped them when they came to the township office seeking public aid.

Steiner resigned as township supervisor in November 2009.

The six suits have been consolidated for hearing purposes.

Saline Township had previously won dismissals of most of the counts against it in the women's suits.

Ruth allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaints.

Saline Township argued in its filings leading up to the Jan. 13 hearing that because Steiner was an elected official and not a township employee, it could not be held responsible for his actions.

The township also argued that under state law, while it could have removed Steiner from administering the General Assistance Fund, it was not legally obligated to do so even it knew about his actions.

The township denies that it knew about the alleged battery.

Saline Township has also questioned whether the state's Gender
Violence Act can apply to a public body. The township contends that the act only applies to flesh and blood human beings.

In his Jan. 13 order, the judge dismissed claims in the suits related to Saline Township's role as Steiner's respondent superior, claims under the theory of master and servant relationship and claims for punitive damages.

Those claims were dismissed with prejudice.

Premises liability claims – the plaintiffs alleged Steiner was an actual hazard on the township's property – were also dismissed with prejudice.

Ruth took all matters related to the statute of limitations in the Ritchie and Barry complaints under advisement.

The judge is also considering claims under the state's Gender Violence Act and the Civil Rights Act of 2003.

Thomas and Peter Maag represent all of the plaintiffs.

Lori Vanderlaan and others represent Saline Township.

Mark Weinheimer and others represent Steiner.

The Watkins suit was the first of the six to be filed last year.

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