The Wood River Township and its assessor answered a former employee’s wrongful termination complaint arguing that they are entitled to immunity when performing discretionary duties for an "at-will employee."

Former employee Sheena Howard filed the lawsuit against the Township and Assessor Sandy Shaw, alleging violations of her First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association with the Illinois Whistleblowers’ Act.

She claims she expressed opposition to the practice of requiring political involvement and was fired in retaliation for speaking up about it.

The Wood River Township and Shaw answered the complaint on Sept. 7 through attorney Matthew Kelly of Schrempf, Kelly & Napp Ltd. in Alton.

The defendants denied the allegations against them and asserted eight affirmative defenses against Howard.

They argue that they are entitled to immunity in connection with the performance of discretionary duties.

They also argue that the plaintiff’s alleged conduct “is too far removed from the issues of political speech or affiliation to be protected conduct.”

The defendants claim Howard failed to mitigate her alleged damages by failing to make reasonable efforts to obtain appropriate employment.

They also argue that Howard “was an at-will employee with no reasonable expectation of continued employment” and failed to exhaust her administrative remedies.

Howard replied to the defendants’ affirmative defenses on Sept. 13 through attorney Jack Daugherty of the Law Office of Keith Short PC in Collinsville.

She denies the allegations and “demands strict proof thereof.”

She also requests the court to strike or deny the affirmative defenses.

In her complaint, Howard alleges Shaw convened a meeting of employees sometime before a March 15 fundraiser to instruct workers to sell fundraiser tickets or to buy at least two tickets.

Howard claims she expressed her opposition at an office meeting on March 30 and was later written up by Shaw.

She further alleges that on April 20, a note was added to her personnel file warning of possible termination if she “keeps taking off,” even though she claims she never used more sick time or time off than what she was allotted.

Howard was terminated June 1 and received nine hours of unused sick pay, the suit states.

She claims she was terminated because of her political affiliation and for refusing to contribute money to, or solicit money for, candidates or causes that she did not agree with.

She seeks at least $50,000 for lost wages and $50,000 for pain and suffering, as well as punitive damages and costs.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 17-L-1112

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Madison County Circuit Court Schrempf, Kelly & Napp Ltd.

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