Appeals court: State agency didn't retaliate against woman who posted fliers complaining about staff parking

By Gabriel Neves | Jan 16, 2019

SPRINGFIELD – A state appeals panel has backed a county judge's decision pulling the plug on a lawsuit brought by a state employee who alleged she was retaliated against after posting fliers complaining of the handling of employee parking policies.

On Jan. 10, a three-justice panel of the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield issued an order affirming the decision of a judge in downstate Sangamon County Circuit Court in the lawsuit brought by plaintiff Margaret Snow against the Illinois Department of Human Services and department employees Dan Melliere and Carol Kraus.

The ruling was authored by Fourth District Justice Lisa Holder White. Justices James Knecht and John W. Turner concurred. The decision came as an unpublished order issued under Supreme Court Rule 23, which limits its use as precedent.

Snow had sued the department, Melliere and Kraus in 2011, alleging they retaliated against her after she posted fliers at her workplace denouncing employee parking policy changes and directly criticizing a supervisor.

After being promoted to office administrator at the Bureau of Collections, Snow had her office moved in May 2010 when bureau offices were moved to a different location, the ruling states.

As stated in the ruling, "at the time of the move, Kraus served as the chief financial officer for the department. Kraus made decisions relating to the move, including how to allocate parking among the staff at the Harris building," and that "the parking at the Harris building was limited and it caused a problem when the Bureau of Collections moved there."

The parking policies had been changed twice in the two years prior to the moving, the ruling states.

"Initially, the Department based the allocation of parking spaces on seniority calculated by the number of years of state of Illinois employment, not just department employment. In 2009, the department revised the parking policy to consider only department seniority. According to Kraus, the rumor was that the former fiscal director changed the policy in 2009 to enable his secretary to have a parking spot. In May 2010, Kraus changed the policy back to the initial 'state of Illinois seniority' policy after consulting with the chief operating officer, among other parties," the ruling said.

Snow alleged she sent an email regarding parking space assignments and afterward, her former supervisor informed her the department modified the policy. He said he received an email stating "the parking would not be divvied out as it had previously been stated and that he would be the only one with a parking space."

Snow then posted fliers protesting the "unethical" parking policy changes,

When Melliere replaced Kraus, Snow's job duties were changed, requiring her to file documents at a "warehouse," which she found unpleasant and which she said made her feel "unsafe."

The ruling states Snow took a voluntary reduction to her job title and transferred to the Division of Mental Health in March 2011. She also filed a complaint, leading to her legal action.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz ruled Snow failed to meet her burden of proof under the Ethics Act and found no evidence of retaliation.

On appeal, Justice White found the defendants "did not violate a law, rule, or regulation or retaliate against plaintiff in violation of the Ethics Act," adding the appellate panel believed "defendants would have taken the same unfavorable personnel action in the absence of plaintiff posting the fliers."

Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court case number 4-18-0060

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