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IDOT layoffs could mean lots of lawsuits

Monday, Aug 25, 2014

* From the AP’s short version

The unexpected firing of 58 state workers whose jobs were improperly filled with politic considerations probably won’t end the controversy for Gov. Pat Quinn.

His aides announced the firings last week ahead of a report saying more than 250 people had been improperly hired at the Department of Transportation over the last decade.

Agency officials said previously that they’d avoid dismissing any of the 250 workers because it could lead to expensive lawsuits.

* From the long version

(O)n Friday, IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said keeping the employees on the payroll would have required creating new positions for them that were covered by the hiring rules.

“We determined that … eliminating the staff assistant position was the best path forward to ensure integrity,” he said.

Carl Draper, a Springfield-based attorney who represented the 16 employees who sued Blagojevich, said it wouldn’t be inconceivable for the 58 employees to argue in court that the inspector general found they were doing work protected by the Rutan rules, so they can’t be fired without cause. Key to his case was showing “the jury that there was no material reorganization.”

“It sounds to me more like [in this case] the material reorganization is, ‘We’re firing all the people that the [news media have] now reported as having gotten Rutan-protected jobs and we shouldn’t have hired them that way,” Draper said.

The terminations also render moot a time-consuming, months-long process the administration says it had undertaken to reclassify the IDOT jobs.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Empty Chair - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 9:54 am:

    Catch 22

  2. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 9:57 am:

    Is it just me, or does it seem odd the only people to pay a price here are the people at the end of this chain of events?

    The people who were hired and ideally just doing their jobs every day get fired. But the people who allegedly created these positions and improperly exploited the system in order to make these hires face no consequences whatsoever?

    It was not the people being hired who were wrong here.

  3. - Kevin Highland - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 10:02 am:

    Weren’t these Rutan exempt jobs? Doesn’t that mean they were “at will employees” meaning they could be let go whenever?

    Or since the jobs were illegally created then the jobs just go away anyway?

    Either way I’m not sure where I see the employees having any recourse.

  4. - ucster - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 10:02 am:

    The people being hired knew they were being given jobs improperly. They are not innocent victims here.

  5. - Norseman - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 10:05 am:

    The writer couldn’t have asked a more expert attorney than Carl. He knows his government law and has helped so many.

  6. - A guy... - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 10:06 am:

    Glad to see they’re “ensuring integrity”. That’s their strength there. Ack.

  7. - Chris - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 10:09 am:

    “The people being hired knew they were being given jobs improperly.”

    And if they didn’t, then that’s evidence that it wasn’t a “policy” job anyway, right?

  8. - TCB - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 10:13 am:

    @Kevin Highland, how is it the responsibility of a potential job candidate to ensure that state law is followed in the hiring process? The responsibility lies solely on IDOT here. The only way these people are to blame is if someone proves they did something improper in order to get a leg-up in the hiring process.

  9. - Demoralized - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 10:32 am:

    ==Doesn’t that mean they were “at will employees” meaning they could be let go whenever?==

    There are still personnel code protections for jobs that are Rutan exempt, depending on their exemption classification.

  10. - jim - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 10:34 am:

    Hey, I stole that job fair and square.

  11. - Give Me A Break - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 10:36 am:

    “The people being hired knew they were being given jobs improperly. They are not innocent victims here.”

    Unless you are applying to run drugs or smuggle people across the border, I think most people would assume the job is legal.

  12. - Bogey Golfer - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 11:00 am:

    Was out for a couple of days - was the list of improperly hired employees been made public?

  13. - TCB - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 11:00 am:

    Even if they were political people, getting political jobs, that wasn’t the issue…..the issue was the work they were assigned after they started wasn’t work that matched the type of position they were hired in. I just don’t see how this is anyone’s fault but IDOT.

    If you disagree that political jobs exist in the 1st place, that’s a different argument entirely (but again, that’s not the fault of the job applicants).

  14. - Weltschmerz - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 11:02 am:

    If you didn’t go to your clout; you didn’t get the job. If you have the job you were clouted in.

  15. - Madison - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 11:03 am:

    Firing these indiduals prompts two questions off the bat: as a class, these folks were fired, but all the other political hires were not. This creates an illusion that only these individuals were hired improperly.
    I doubt that these were the only “mistakes”.

    Public policy exclusions against firing individuals politically could also kick in, even after they were alledgedly “hired” politically.

    Persons in Illinois, even if “at will” cannot be fired if doing so violates the public policy exceptions to the “at will” employment doctrine: race,politics,sex, etc.

    Gonna be interesting to watch the hapless PQ try and sliver out of his glass house on this one.

  16. - Arizona Bob - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 11:04 am:

    One other thing regardng why Illinois roads are typically in such bad shape, and why they seem to continuously be re-done.

    There are varying lifetimes for different pavement designs. Some are more robust, and may ony require major rework every decade or so. Others are much flimsier for a given road traffic load, and have a slightly lower intitial capital material cost, but a MUCH higher life cycle labor cost.

    The way it works is that there’s an original work specification that’s put out for bid for a certain pavement or bridge design, say for a 10 year reapir cycle. If the bids come in high, the logical thing to do is defer the work for the next year when it can be done properly. That’s not the Illinois way. They just come up with an inferior design to the previous bid, rebid the work, then eventually get stuck redoing the work much quicker than anticipated. If, for example, you repalce a 10-year design with a 5-year design, you’ve effectively doubled the life cycle cost, while going with the mmore robust desing would’ve cost 10-20% more than the cheaper one.

    Bad economics, good politics. You see, the contractors, unions and material suppliers couldn’t care less about the longterm value of the work. they want their contracts NOW, and that’s the way the political leaders of IDOT do things, rather than the way the engineers, or any good manager, would.

    That’s one of the real reasons we need good, professional, apolitcal people in charge of groups like IDOT. I’d love to see Rauner make that point.

  17. - Cassandra - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 11:16 am:

    Wouldn’t they have layoff rights under the personnel code. I assume once you are in the state system, you can bid on other vacancies, and there are usually bargaining unit vacancies which no b/u employees have requested. Of course, those jobs might not be the ones a person with clout would want, but they allow the employee to accrue seniority and benefits (like those vanishing defined benefit pension rights) in the state system.

  18. - anon. - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 11:29 am:

    Wow! The only Illinois jobs PQ created were these clout jobs and now he has destroyed them.

  19. - Mister M - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 11:32 am:

    “The people being hired knew they were being given jobs improperly. They are not innocent victims here.”

    Absolutely. Beyond that, these people were maneuvered into other positions, given authority without qualifications and without accountability except to the political heiarchy. Moreover, this focus is narrow….an attempt to characterize the problem as a small one and ignoring all the abuses to the personnel processes beyond the “staff assistant” issue, i.e., “OK, all fixed, nothing wrong anymore, move along, move along.”

  20. - Keyser Soze - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 11:45 am:

    A larger question looms. Were the improper hires paid with federal funds?

  21. - Shawshank Red - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 11:47 am:

    “Glad to see they’re ‘ensuring integrity’. That’s their strength there. Ack.”

    I thought this was a great post by “A guy…”, if for no other reason than he used they’re, there, and their all in the same post, and CORRECTLY! :)
    A guy… - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 10:06 am:

  22. - flea - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 12:05 pm:

    does anyone else find it troubling/confusing that 250 were hired in this manner but only 58 are being terminated…

  23. - pyrman - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 12:24 pm:

    These folks were NOT hired improperly, they were given job duties other than what they were hired for. Quinn threw them under the bus, they did nothing wrong.

  24. - Ghost - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 12:26 pm:

    === The writer couldn’t have asked a more expert attorney than Carl. He knows his government law and has helped so many. ===

    before you tout his musings too much… Carl is just dead wrong on the law. see Riley v. Blagojevich, 425 F.3d 357 (7th Cir.2005).

    Decision 9 years ago dismissed his argument:

    “It seems to us that if no basis is presented for thinking the official job descriptions systemically unreliable in a sense to be explained, the elected officials can rely on them, even if a plaintiff is prepared to testify (self-servingly) that the job description doesn’t actually describe what he does, thus precipitating a factual inquiry likely to be protracted and inconclusive. “Our focus is on the `inherent powers’ of the office, not what any individual officeholder actually does.” [citation]

  25. - Chris - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 2:43 pm:

    “Bad economics, good politics. You see, the contractors, unions and material suppliers couldn’t care less about the longterm value of the work. they want their contracts NOW, and that’s the way the political leaders of IDOT do things, rather than the way the engineers, or any good manager, would.”

    Yep, all too true, as a general matter.

  26. - KitKaT - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 6:03 pm:

    Okay so check that off the list, now what about all of the “chosen” employees that work for IDOT but are paid salaries through the various grants? Yet another way to skirt “rutan” and hire whomever you want!

  27. - Hmmm - Monday, Aug 25, 14 @ 9:42 pm:

    Does anyone realize that there are no actual job titles of Staff Assistant at IDOT. Search for that job title on the Comptroller Ledger and none show at IDOT. I do not know who all those fired are, I only know that one of those fired has been there for over nine years (as a TM with specific job duties) and has serious on-going health issues and will now have no health insurance. I also know that many of those brought in as Staff Assistants were trained in positions which were eventually posted and those people got that permanent position. Odd that no other applicant but those were qualified for that particular position. Hmmm

  28. - Pete - Tuesday, Aug 26, 14 @ 7:05 am:

    IDOT does not do the direct hiring. All of these positions had to go through CMS. CMS needed to be fumagated when Quinn took office. That didn’t happen. The result is what we have today. Get rid of CMS and have the State Police and IDOT stand alone, and watch our state rise again.

    IDOT is entirely unionized because it is treated like any other department in the state. Shared suffering has resulted in low employee moral, apathy, and taxpayer distrust.

    It’s not surprising that instead of restructuring, re-focusing, and re-invigorating the Dept., the current administration is doubling down and putting another lackey at the helm.

  29. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Aug 27, 14 @ 1:35 pm:

    I would agree this problem is deeper than what has been presented on surface. Jobs were created to favorably bring these individuals in the door (regardless of the task). In some cases, these individuals only received ‘minimal’ training/experience then, and ‘again’, allowed to be highly regarded after interviewing for full-time union positions where they conveniently slid under union protection. I reserve my expression for those layoffs because this long-term ‘crafted scheme’ no doubt hurt existing qualified state employees who competed for those internal postings/positions - perhaps holding more experience (state or otherwise). Those are the employees who worked hard for the state and were denied ‘Fair’ and ‘Equal Opportunity’ to internal promotions all due to what appears to be unfavorable employment practices. Now, who were we feeling sorry for?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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