Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker | Youtube screenshot
A group of former campaign workers will not be allowed to question Gov. JB Pritzker under oath as part of their lawsuit accusing the Pritzker gubernatorial campaign organization of racial discrimination, a federal judge has ruled.
Further, the judge has also sharply limited the questions the plaintiffs may pose to Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton under oath, as well.
On Feb. 21, Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cummings granted a request from a lawyer for the Pritzker campaign for a protective order protecting Pritzker and Stratton.
In the order, Judge Cummings said he did not believe the plaintiffs had demonstrated Pritzker knows enough about the alleged events at the heart of the plaintiffs’ claims to grant the plaintiffs the ability to question him. Further, the judge said the governor’s duties are too “demanding” and his time too important to allow the questioning.
The order also applied to any written questions the plaintiffs may wish to pose to the governor, Cummings said.
“The Court further finds that a deposition by written questions is no more likely to result in relevant evidence than an oral deposition would,” Judge Cummings wrote. “Pritzker’s sworn declaration makes clear that he had no substantive knowledge of employment conditions – much less a unique understanding of events. Plaintiffs’ claims to the contrary and their news clipping are simply too thin of a reed on which to require the State’s chief executive to divert time from his demanding duties…”
The request to question Pritzker and Stratton had come amid continued discovery efforts in the class action lawsuit that dates back to the waning days of the 2018 contest for Illinois governor between Pritzker and former Gov. Bruce Rauner.
In the lawsuit, a group of Pritzker campaign workers – all veterans of prior Democratic campaigns or of other progressive political organizations – had accused the Pritzker campaign of packing black and Latino campaign workers into majority minority neighborhoods, often with little regard for their safety. The lawsuit further accused the campaign of denying those workers the same benefits and advancement opportunities afforded to white colleagues, and of ignoring complaints of racial inequality from minority staffers or terminating those who challenged the alleged inequities.
The lawsuit was expanded to include a count of defamation against Stratton, who is accused of describing the plaintiffs as “extortionists” in comments to the press about the lawsuit.
Pritzker had earlier been dismissed as an individual defendant in the lawsuit.
However, lawyers for the plaintiffs, attorneys Shay Allen and Jeanette Samuels, of Chicago, argued they should still have the chance to question Pritzker about what he knows of the racial discrimination alleged by their clients.
In response, attorney William B. Stafford, of the firm of Perkins Coie, of Seattle, who represents the Pritzker campaign organization, filed a motion asking a federal judge to shield Pritzker from sitting for a deposition, and to limit any sworn questioning of Stratton to three hours and only to matters strictly pertaining to the defamation charge.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys had countered in early February, arguing they could prove Pritzker knew of the alleged discrimination within his campaign organization.
“It is not possible that he was ignorant of the racial discrimination that was going on during his campaign,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote. “Multiple people told him. The idea that no one spoke to Gov. Pritzker about their complaints of racial discrimination is provably false.”
Judge Cummings, however, said that is not enough to allow them a shot at Pritzker under oath.
“… Pritzker states in his sworn declaration that he ‘was rarely made aware’ of any personnel matters in the campaign; had no direct role in human resource issues; and was not responsible for receiving or investigating workplace complaints,” Judge Cummings wrote. “In any event, even if Pritzker was made aware of some of plaintiffs’ allegations, mere knowledge of events is not sufficient to require a deposition: the officer must have ‘unique’ personal knowledge.
“No evidence indicates that Pritzker has such information.”
Cummings said he also did not believe questioning of Stratton would reveal she had “more knowledge than the campaign’s field managers have of the day-to-day conditions that the campaign’s employees faced.”
The judge granted the request to shield Pritzker and limit Stratton’s deposition solely to the defamation allegations against her, during a strict three-hour questioning session before discovery in the case is scheduled to close on Feb. 28.