When former Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford was eyeing the state's gubernatorial seat, a federal lawsuit was filed that effectively shut down his chances to be the next Illinois Governor. Rutherford said the lawsuit was a political act to discredit him. However, more people are coming forward to join the federal lawsuit, giving credence to the claims that Rutherford was sexually harassing staffers.
Edmund Michalowski was the first staffer to come forward, filing a federal sexual harassment lawsuit against Rutherford in February of 2014. After a judge dismissed other allegations in the complaint, Michalowski was directed to refile the lawsuit on the sexual harassment claims. The complaint indicates “many other male employees and interns” were also victims of Rutherford's inappropriate actions, naming four other potential plaintiffs.
According to the complaint, Rutherford made unwanted gestures and unwelcome comments towards Michalowski on repeated occasions over a four-year period. From about 2010 to 2014, the complaint also alleges Rutherford made similar gestures and comments to a number of other male staffers and employees.
Rutherford called the lawsuit a dirty political trick, and he eventually lost the Republican bid for governor against Bruce Rauner. However, even after the gubernatorial race was over, Michalowski has continued to maintain his claims of harassment.
The lawsuit alleges, at least, six occasions when Rutherford made sexual advances. In one instance, Michalowski claims Rutherford came into his bedroom during an overnight stay at Rutherford's home and touched him sexually. Michalowski says he complained about it to the chief of staff, Kyle Ham, and others, but nothing was done, and instead Michalowski was denied advancement.
Ashvin Lad, Patrick Carlson and George Daglas, all former employees or interns, have filed a separate lawsuit. They alleged that Rutherford fired them in July 2014 in retaliation for their cooperation with federal investigators looking into the harassment claims.
According to Rutherford's attorney Dan Fahner, Michalowski has been inconsistent in his allegations, changing his story during the multiple court filings. Rutherford calls the allegations false. “Plaintiff's constantly evolving allegations and claims are without merit,” said Fahner, “and Mr. Rutherford looks forward to demonstrating their falsity.”
Michalowski also accused Rutherford of political intimidation, which led to an investigation by a former IRS investigator. Rutherford said he would release the results of the taxpayer funded investigation, but later said he would keep the results secret, on the advice of attorneys. His successor, Treasurer Mike Frerichs, initially said he would also release the results, before changing his mind.
According to state attorneys, the investigation includes material prepared in anticipation of the federal lawsuit, and as such, is exempt from disclosure under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. While a spokesperson for Frerichs says the report will be released once the lawsuit is concluded, there is no date for release on the horizon.
If you or a family member have been harassed by a supervisor or employer, it is important to speak out so that this kind of behavior does not go on and potentially harm others. Speak with an experienced sexual harassment attorney who understands your rights, will stop the harassment, and fight to protect your job, your position, and your reputation. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients and their families the justice they deserve.