Former employee sues Madison County State's Attorney's Office, claims discrimination

Bethany Krajelis Oct. 1, 2012, 12:59pm


A former assistant state's attorney has sued Madison County and its prosecutor's office, claiming that her disability played "a motivating factor" in her termination.

Filed Friday in federal court, Theresa Hagans' two-count complaint contends that the defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Illinois Human Rights Act (HRA) when they fired her last year and then refused to consider her for job openings.

Hagans, who also claims that the defendants interfered with her Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) rights, worked as an assistant state's attorney from April 1997 until her July 1, 2011 termination.

Her suit seeks an award of lost wages, benefits, compensation and other benefits, which she estimates to be in excess of $400,000, as well as attorneys' fees and more than $75,000 in compensatory damages.

Madison County State's Attorney Thomas Gibbons said in a written statement that Hagans worked in the office's Child Support Division and "did not live up to the high performance standards I have set for the office."

Gibbons, a Democrat, was appointed the county's top prosecutor in December 2010 and is running for the seat in the upcoming election against Republican Amy Sholar.

In his statement, Gibbons said that Hagans had previously been warned for "failing to perform the required duties of her position and then, in this instance, failed to prepare the file or show up in court on time for a trial in which child support was at stake."

She "also failed to call her supervisor, prior to trial, to let him know that she would not be there," he added.

Hagans' claim, Gibbons said, "was rejected by the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and we expect that the court will do the same."

According to Hagans' complaint, she filed disability discrimination and retaliation claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Department of Human Rights.

After she received a notice of right to sue from the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and "derivatively from the EEOC," Hagans asserts in her complaint that she filed her suit in federal court.

Her suit states that she suffers from "fibromyalgia, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea," a group of ailments and conditions Hagans contends interferes with her "ability to move about, walk, sleep, work, travel and on occasion, concentrate."

Hagans asserts that administrators and managerial representatives of the defendants "at all relevant times knew and agreed that plaintiff was a person with a disability," and in 2010 and 2011, granted requests for "the reasonable accommodation of a modified work schedule."

According to her complaint, Hagans met with an assistant state's attorney and office administrator in February 2011 to discuss her need for ongoing accommodations.

She contends she talked about taking leave under the FMLA, but was discouraged from doing so by the defendants' representatives.

They, however, agreed at that meeting to continue providing Hagans the accommodation of a modified work schedule, which came along with "a concomitant pro rata reduction in compensation paid," her suit states.

In late June 2011, Hagans claims she was instructed to meet with Gibbons and a special investigator in the office.

At this meeting, the suit states, Gibbons allegedly told Hagans something to the effect of "everyone likes you ... but it's just not working" and set July 1, 2011 as her last day.

Gibbons, Hagans claims, acknowledged at the time of her termination that she had sick, personal and vacation days, as well as FMLA rights, available to her.

Despite her termination, Hagans states in her suit that she applied this year for job openings and vacancies with the defendants, who she claims refused to consider her for any of the positions.

Instead, Hagans claims, the defendants "hired and promoted individuals who did not have any disabilities or impairments but who had much less experience and training than plaintiff."

Hagans contends her "disability and use of rights under the ADA, the ADAA and the Illinois Human Rights Act were motivating factors" in the defendants' decisions to not only terminate her, but to refuse to consider her for open positions.

The ADAA stands for the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which broadened the definition of the disabilities that require accommodation under the ADA.

Hagans asserts that her "work performance at all relevant times met the reasonable expectations of her employers" and had "a very good to excellent reputation with Madison County judges and Madison County attorneys for the quality and quantity of her work."

In her complaint, Hagans contends she has "lost wages, incomes, benefits and employment opportunities in excess of $400,000 as a direct and proximate result of defendants' illegal discrimination against plaintiff in violation of the ADA, the ADAA, and the Illinois Human Rights Act."

Her lawsuit asks the federal court to enjoin the defendants from violating the ADA, ADDA and the state's Human Rights Act; declare that they violated these acts; award her lost wages and benefits, as well as attorneys' fees and more than $75,000 in compensatory damages.

Alton attorney Lee Barron filed the complaint on Hagans' behalf.

Gibbons said in his statement that "the plaintiff's attorney has insinuated public exposure and political harms as a means to attempt to initiate a settlement. I will not bow to such tactics."

"Dealing with the many lawsuits that are filed each year against county officials and departments" is a challenge that comes along with serving the public, Gibbons said, adding that since taking office, he has "taken a hard line against paying settlements for unjustified claims."

Hagans' lawsuit marks at least the third lawsuit against a Madison County office, elected official or candidate filed in the past three months.

In July, former clients of Hamel attorney Tom Burkart filed a lawsuit against the judicial hopeful in an attempt to recover proceeds from a jury verdict they won more than a decade ago.

Burkart, a Republican, is running against Associate Judge Kyle Napp, a Democrat, for a circuit judgeship in the upcoming election.

In August, Casey Hutson filed a lawsuit against Madison County Recorder of Deeds Matt Rice. Hutson, a former employee of the office, claims Rice fired her for supporting his opponent in the upcoming election.

Rice, a Republican, is running for reelection against Democrat Amy Meyer.

And although he is not named as a defendant, Madison County Auditor Rick Faccin is also currently involved in litigation.

Faccin filed a lawsuit in September 2011 against Rebecca Hughes, claiming that she caused a car collision that left him with rib injuries. A trial date has been set for January.

Faccin is a Democrat running against Jeremy Plank, a Republican, in the upcoming election.

More News