A state appellate court has reinstated a lawsuit brought
against the city of Chicago by the former executive director of its office of
compliance, which is tasked with reviewing city hiring decisions to prevent
Anthony Boswell had sued the city for breach of contract, saying
city officials harassed and obstructed his work throughout his tenure at City
Hall, leading to his resignation.
A Cook County judge had dismissed his claims in March 2015, finding the
city’s ordinance creating the executive director position did not create a
contract between Boswell and the city.
A three-justice panel of the Illinois First District
Appellate Court, however, said the trial court was wrong.
Justices also disagreed with the city’s assertion that
Boswell’s case must be considered in isolation and not against the backdrop of
the so-called Shakman litigation, a complex series of legal issues challenging longstanding
practices of patronage and nepotism in Chicago and throughout the state of
Illinois. Though Boswell did not specifically bring up Shakman in his
complaint, Justice Michael B. Hyman wrote in the majority opinion that the
specter of the city’s past hiring practices could not be ignored.
“The context of the municipal ordinance at issue and the
hiring of Boswell relate directly to that epic litigation, with this case
serving as yet another sordid episode in a long, tangled and distinctly Chicago saga,” he wrote.
In 2007, the city created an office of compliance to oversee
the city’s hiring practices and replace a federally appointed hiring monitor.
Boswell was named executive director of the new office, which was approved by
the federal district court in 2008. As established, the office was to be
independent of the city and the executive director was to have no connections
to the city or its politics, was to be appointed for a set four-year term and
could not be removed without cause.
Boswell resigned from the job in 2010 and filed his lawsuit
in 2014, claiming breach of contract and, if that should fail, promissory
estoppel. His complaint alleged that city officials obstructed him in his work
and retaliated against him when he performed the functions of his office,
attempting to carry on entrenched hiring practices while the office of
compliance looked the other way.
In 2015, the trial court granted the city’s motion to
dismiss, finding that there was no contract to be breached. In reversing the
dismissal, the appellate court said that Boswell overcame the legal presumption
that an ordinance is not intended to create private contractual rights. The
ordinance lays out specific rights the executive director has in termination
procedures, which the appellate court read as employee rights such as those
that would be established by a contract.
The court also considered the effect the Shakman litigation
might have had on the city council’s intentions in crafting the ordinance. The
point of the ordinance was to replace the federal hiring monitor, Hyman wrote,
and without an “ironclad contract” the executive director would be powerless to
enforce the hiring and personnel practices the federal court had imposed.
Justice John B. Simon disagreed with Hyman and Justice P.
Scott Neville Jr., who had concurred in the majority opinion, and wrote a dissenting opinion in which he said it was
“troubling” that the majority used Shakman to “overcome and supplement
Boswell’s deficiency” in stating his claim. In his dissent, Simon wrote that there
is no language in the Chicago
ordinance that clearly implies an intent to create a contract with Boswell and
no evidence that the ordinance was intended to benefit him as opposed to the
public at large.
With the dismissal reversed, the complaint has been
remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.
Boswell was represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Stowell & Friedman, of Chicago.