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Former highway manager sues Illinois lawmaker, inspector general over his firing

By Andrew Thomason | Nov 27, 2013

A former manager for the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has filed a federal lawsuit against a state lawmaker, an inspector general and others, claiming they conspired to have him wrongfully fired earlier this year.

Joseph Caffarello filed the suit Nov. 25 in Chicago's federal court through Park Ridge attorneys Margherita Albarello and Frank Howard. He is seeking monetary damages and reinstatement to the job he was terminated from in February 2013.

The suit stems from Caffarello's  promotion to roadway section manager and his 2011 transfer to the authority’s Gurnee-area operation. He started his career with the toll authority in 2000.

One particular employee, Edward Maluska, was brought to Caffarello’s attention by other employees for under-performance, the suit states, adding that Caffarello ordered Maluska to have daily equipment training after observing him struggle with many job assignments.

Caffarello asserts he received a telephone call from Maluska’s state lawmaker, Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, in August 2011, several months after Maluska was assigned the extra training.

Mayfield, the suit alleges, informed Caffarello during their phone conversation that Maluska told her he was being harassed by fellow employees and that she would like Caffarello to do something about stopping it.

Believing that Mayfield’s request could potentially violate the State Officials Employees Ethics Act, Caffarello told her “it was inappropriate for her, an elected official, to be contacting him about her constituent and telling him to take disciplinary action against other Toll Authority employees,” the suit states.

Caffarello claims he gave Mayfield the phone number of his manager, who Mayfield then called.

Following the call with Mayfield and discussions with his manager, Caffarello switched Maluska to a shift when his alleged harassers didn’t work. The suit notes the move upset Maluska.

Several months after Maluska started his new shift, Mayfield gave a picture of Caffarello asleep at his work desk, along with a March 12, 2012 letter, to Illinois Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza. Caffarello claims Maluska gave the picture to Mayfield.

In her letter to Meza, Mayfield, according to the complaint, wrote, “The State of Illinois is broke and as a Representative I’m faced with tough decisions on what cuts need to be made. Obviously there is a lot of waste within the Illinois Toll Authority if members of management are allowed to sleep during regular working hours … I strongly feel that the first cut needs to be this position."

Mayfield also provided the picture and letter to Gov. Pat Quinn, the executive director of the Illinois Toll Highway Authority and the chair of the authority's board, according to the suit.

Caffarello contends Mayfield also gave the picture and story about him sleeping on the job to the Chicago Sun-Times, which published an article and front-page photo of him sleeping at his desk in March 2012.

The following month, the suit states, Caffarello received a written reprimand and a two-day unpaid suspension for the incident.

Mayfield’s letter also sparked an investigation by James Wagner, the inspector general for the toll authority.

During an interview, Wagner asked Caffarello about his rise through the toll authority and his connections to various people of Italian origin. Caffarello, who is of Italian lineage, contends Wagner implied it was his connections, not his job performance, that got him promoted.

Wagner ultimately recommended that Caffarello be fired, and after several months of unpaid leave, Caffarello was terminated in late February of this year.

Caffarello claims that both Mayfield and Wagner were working behind the scenes to get him fired.

“Representative Mayfield and Wagner supported and encouraged Maluska and other … employees unhappy about … receiving legitimate job discipline, to make false accusations of impropriety against Caffarello, due to Caffarello’s refusal to dole out preferential treatment to Representative Mayfield’s constituent, his report to his supervisors of Representative Mayfield’s inappropriate ... phone call, and Wagner’s desire to terminate Caffarello’s employment due to his national origin," the suit states.

Caffarello's suit names Mayfield, Wagner, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority and the Office of the Inspector General of Illinois State Toll Highway Authority as defendants.

It includes counts for conspiracy to violate Constitutional rights, tortious interference with employment expectancy, defamation, invasion of privacy by false light, violations of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment, as well as the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act.

Caffarello is asking for a jury trial and is seeking reinstatement to his former job, compensatory damages and punitive damages against Mayfield and Wagner, prejudgement interest, attorneys’ fees and costs.

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