CHICAGO (CN) – A city employee of Country Club Hills – who was also the mayor’s girlfriend – may pursue her claim the City Council fired her in political retaliation for working on the mayor’s re-election campaign, a federal judge ruled.
From 2008 to 2011, Michelle Garner worked for Country Club Hills, Ill., first as a clerk in the City Hall, and then as a site coordinator for the Superintendent of Parks and Recreation.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Garner was also Mayor Dwight Welch’s girlfriend. She says she actively supported Welch during his April 2011 re-election campaign and went door-to-door handing out campaign literature.
After Welch won re-election, Garner claimed that Aldermen Burris and Lockett, who ran against Welch in the election, harassed her for supporting the mayor’s campaign. She also said Welch sent a letter to city employees warning that the City Counsel planned to fire some employees for political retaliation purposes.
Soon afterwards, the City Counsel passed a budget eliminating 13 city employees, including Garner, all of whom were political supporters of Mayor Welch.
The City Counsel’s decision came after the Better Government Association investigated Mayor Welch and found that he charged tens of thousands of dollars to his city credit card for restaurant bills, gifts and a $500 white tuxedo.
Garner filed suit in federal court alleging that County Club Hills and its City Counsel violated her rights to free speech and free association.
U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. refused to dismiss her claims, finding that “the fact that all thirteen terminated employees were political supporters of the Mayor raises suspicion as to the motive behind the terminations.”
He continued: “Plaintiff’s complaint offers several additional pieces of evidence in support of her claims: (1) a letter from the Mayor notifying employees that the aldermen were planning to fire a number of city employees for purposes of political retaliation; (2) an allegation that during budget meetings in May, the Finance Committee discussed terminating several of the Mayor’s supporters by name; and (3) an allegation that two individual aldermen not only knew of Garner’s involvement with Welch’s campaign, but also followed and harassed her in retaliation for her contributions.”
Accepting Garner’s facts as true at this stage, Dow said her “allegations raise the possibility of relief above a speculative level.”