CHICAGO (CN) – Three former assistant state’s attorneys cannot bring wrongful termination claims under the Age Discrimination Employment Act because they are political appointees, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Christine Opp, Edward Barrett and Leonard Cahnmann, all former assistant state’s attorneys in Cook County, sued for age discrimination after they lost their jobs in 2007.
After receiving news of imminent budget cuts in Cook, then State’s Attorney Richard Devine announced that any personnel cuts would be based on performance evaluations.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office cited “budgetary constraints” and “the future needs of the office” in firing Opp, Barrett and Cahnmann, but the justifications were pretextual and the positions were filled by younger appointees within a few months, the trio claimed, as quoted in the ruling.
An Illinois federal judge ruled against the workers, finding that they were appointees on the policymaking level and excluded from coverage under the Age Discrimination Employment Act. The 7th Circuit upheld the decision.
Once the state’s attorney allows an assistant state’s attorney to conduct a case in court, the assistant has discretion to prosecute or dismiss a case without guidance from the state’s attorney. “This alone raises the assistant state’s attorneys to the level of policymakers,” Judge William Bauer wrote for the court.
The Chicago-based appeals court noted that it defined appointees on the policymaking level in previous rulings as individuals authorized to have meaningful input on governmental decision-making.
Opp, Barrett and Cahnmann argued that they were not “appointed” because they were hired by the State’s Attorney’s Office before Richard Divine was elected. The court also rejected this reasoning, finding that hiring decisions made by the office are still “appointments.”
At the time of their terminations, Opp was 57, Barrett was 44 and Cahnmann was 60.