The City of Collinsville and several city officials claim they are immune from liability for any injury caused by the legislative process in the former city manager’s lawsuit alleging he was terminated for reporting inappropriate actions.
Scott Williams filed the lawsuit on July 11 against the City of Collinsville, Mayor John Miller, Councilwoman Cheryl Brombolich and Councilman Jeff Stehman, alleging violations of the Illinois Whistleblower Act.
According to the complaint, Williams was hired as City Manager for the City of Collinsville on Sept. 12, 2012, and his contract was to run until September 2015.
However, in September 2014, he alleges he learned that Brombolich was misusing the city’s credit cards and accounts. Williams claims he placed Brombolich on administrative leave and reported the misconduct to the Collinsville Police Department.
Further, in June 2015, Williams claims learned that Miller actively solicited and accepted free dirt from a city contractor. Rod Cheatham, the city’s former street director, submitted a written complaint regarding the incident. Williams says he forwarded the complaint to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons, the suit states.
Then on July 13, 2015, the defendants voted to suspend Williams from employment and placed him on administrative leave. The defendants later refused to renew his employment contract and ended his employment prematurely. Williams last day of work was July 17, 2015, the suit states.
Williams alleges the defendants retaliated against him for his whistleblowing acts and intentionally thwarted and refused the renewal of his employment contract.
The City of Collinsville, Miller and Stehman filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, motion to transfer venue on Sept. 14 through attorney Heidi Eckert of Lowenbaum Law in Clayton, Mo.
They argue that they are immune from liability under the Tort Immunity Act, which states that “a public employee serving in a position involving the determination of policy or the exercise of discretion is not liable for any injury resulting from his act or omission in determining policy when acting in the exercise of such discretion even though abused.”
“In particular, the Defendants’ decision to decline to renew Plaintiff’s employment contract involved a policy determination, and there is abundant case law to support the conclusion that hiring and firing decisions are considered policy determinations …” the motion states.
They further argue that they are immune from liability for an injury caused by the legislative process.
They also argue that Miller and Stehman are not employers within the meaning of the statute in the Illinois Whistleblower Act.
“Here, Defendants Miller and Stehman are named as parties to Plaintiffs claim under the Act. However, under the plain language of the Act, only the employer – City of Collinsville – may be held liable for the conduct of its employees,” the motion states.
The defendants also claim the complaint should be transferred to Madison County because the City of Collinsville is located in Madison County and the alleged actions took place in Madison County.
Williams filed a response on Oct. 7 through attorneys Stephen Wigginton and Falon Wrigley of Armstrong Teasdale in St. Louis.
He argues that the defendants are all considered employers under the language of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, which defines an employer as “any person acting within the scope of his or her authority express or implied on behalf of [a unit of local government or other employer] in dealing with its employees.”
Williams says the Illinois Whistleblower Act was expanded in 2008 to allow for individual liability.
Williams also argues that the Tort Immunity Act does not insulate the defendants from liability.
“Numerous Courts have concluded that employers are not entitled to immunity under the TIA where they take unlawful, retaliatory adverse employment action against an employee for engaging in protected activity under the IWA (and other similar laws) as such conduct is not a ‘policy decision’ within the meaning of the TIA,” the answer states.
As for their immunity defense for legislative actions, Williams says firing an employee is not legislation.
Brombolich filed a motion to dismiss on Sept. 16 through attorney Charles Pierce of Pierce Law Firm in Belleville. She alleges the arguments raised in the other defendants’ motion to dismiss “equally apply to defendant Brombolich.”
Williams filed a response in opposition to Brombolich’s motion to dismiss on Oct. 7.
He argues that Brombolich failed to cite to any authority or submit any legal argument in her motion. Instead, she just joined in the Sept. 14 motion to dismiss filed by the other defendants.
“Defendant Brombolich incorporated by reference all of the arguments set out in co-defendants’ briefing,” the response states.
Williams argues that the defendants are subject to liability under the Illinois Whistleblower Act and Brombolich is not entitled to immunity.
Further, he says venue is proper because at least one of the defendants resides in St. Clair County and at least some part of the transaction occurred there.
St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 16-L-359