CHICAGO >> A potentially politically embarrassing civil lawsuit against Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Duckworth, alleging workplace retaliation during her time as head of the state Department of Veterans Affairs, was settled today for $26,000 from the state of Illinois, with no finding of wrongdoing.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, representing Duckworth in the case, said in a statement that during a pretrial settlement conference in Union County, “it became clear that we could resolve this matter … for nuisance value — saving the state the costs of lawyers preparing for and trying the case.”
Madigan spokeswoman Maura Possley said the $26,000 award to two workers at the Anna Veteran’s Home “will cover attorney’s fees and all costs,” and the “settlement is based on the agreement that there is no finding of a violation of the law.”
The lawsuit, which had been scheduled for trial mid-August, had been the dominant theme of Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk’s early attacks on Duckworth, currently a two-term congresswoman from Hoffman Estates, as he seeks re-election.
Kirk has been considered the most vulnerable of Republicans seeking re-election this year. Illinois traditionally goes Democratic in presidential years and the first-term senator has revoked his earlier endorsement of controversial presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump — and has been airing a TV ad to promote it — to try to mitigate any political fallout in November.
Duckworth, who graduated from McKinley High School in Honolulu and attended the University of Hawaii, had been appointed to head the state’s veteran’s agency by now-imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich following an unsuccessful run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam of Wheaton in 2006.
The Blagojevich connection, and allegations raised in the lawsuit, had prompted Kirk to accuse her of hiring “goombahs” at the former governor’s direction, and he questioned whether she wanted to avoid testifying. Duckworth has said she wanted to get all the facts out but was prevented from speaking about the case while it was being litigated.
Matt McGrath, Duckworth’s campaign spokesman, called the settlement “appropriate for what was always a frivolous workplace case” and said she “has and always will put protecting our veterans first.”
“Kirk had clearly pinned his desperate campaign hopes on what a federal judge (once) deemed a ‘garden variety workplace case,’ and now it’s clear he’s got nothing left to offer Illinois families,” McGrath said.
Kirk campaign manager Kevin Artl said the settlement “cost Illinois taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars while prolonging the legacy of Rod Blagojevich corruption.”
“The simple truth is that if Tammy Duckworth was innocent, she would not have settled this case,” he said. “Instead of taking the stand and testifying, Duckworth has chosen to stay silent and settle the case at taxpayer expense in order to hide from the truth.”
The case had been dismissed twice before, and the state unsuccessfully had asked for the same fate again, arguing that Duckworth’s efforts to fire 22-year state employee Christine Butler from her administrative job were based solely on “insubordination.”
Duckworth later reversed that decision after being told that she first had to follow written disciplinary procedures and instead issued a reprimand with a paid suspension against Butler.
Human resources secretary Denise Goins alleged that complaints about her boss were ignored and led to an unfavorable performance review that prevented her from receiving a raise. Goins had said Duckworth urged her to “do your job and keep your mouth shut.”
Goins and Butler, who both continue to work at a veterans home, also say they were punished for speaking out after Patricia Simms, the acting administrator, allowed unauthorized people to care for a resident. The two state workers had originally sought compensation of at least $50,000, as well as other financial penalties.
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