Three former state employees allege in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that then-Treasurer Dan Rutherford fired them in 2014 in retaliation after they offered damaging evidence in a sexual harassment investigation conducted by a law firm into the Illinois Republican.
Patrick Carlson, George Daglas and Ashvin Lad — all top aides to Rutherford at the time — were told they were being fired for timekeeping abuses, but that was merely a pretext for getting rid of them for implicating their boss, the filing in Cook County Circuit Court alleges.
The 10-page civil suit names Rutherford, former chief of staff Kyle Ham, and the agency as defendants. Among other demands, the men seek back pay and compensation for future wages and emotional distress.
Another ex-Rutherford aide, Edmund Michalowski, made the original harassment allegations. In a still-active federal lawsuit, Michalowski claimed he was subject to repeated unwanted sexual advances by Rutherford.
Those harassment claims against Rutherford were first made public in January last year as Rutherford's campaign for governor kicked into high gear. He steadfastly denied the allegations, but ended up losing the March 2014 Republican primary. There was never an indication of a criminal investigation of Rutherford and no criminal charges were ever filed.
Wednesday's lawsuit says the plaintiffs told investigating lawyers who were brought into the agency to vet the harassment allegations that the allegations were true.
The retribution came months after the primary, according to the lawsuit, when a separate investigation by the treasurer's inspector general concluded the men had falsely recorded working times. Citing those allegations of wrongdoing, Rutherford fired them on July 2, 2014.
Shortly after Carlson, Daglas and Lad were shown the door, the lawsuit says, Rutherford's then-chief of staff boasted to another employee, "We came guns blazing. You think they'll shut up now?"
The inspector general's report on the timekeeping records was made public two months after the firings. It says the probe into the three aides began after another employee received a cellphone photo of Lad at Wrigley Field one afternoon with the message, "I'm playing Hooky..SHHHHH."
Rutherford's attorney, Daniel Fahner, said in an emailed statement Wednesday he hadn't seen the lawsuit. But, he said, "The notion that (the timekeeping) investigation was motivated by or had any connection with anything beyond an employee's complaint is unfounded."
Current Treasurer Michael Frerichs, a Democrat, is not accused of wrongdoing. His spokesman, Greg Rivara, emailed a statement saying the allegations in Wednesday's suit didn't appear to involve Frerichs or current agency employees. A phone message seeking comment from Ham wasn't returned.