CHICAGO (CBS) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit accusing state treasurer and failed Republican candidate for governor Dan Rutherford of sexually harassing a former top aide, and pressuring him to perform campaign work on government time.
Former Rutherford aide Edmund Michalowski filed the lawsuit in February, just weeks ahead of the primary election. Rutherford vehemently denied the allegations, and questioned the timing of the lawsuit, which was filed just five weeks before the March primary, although some of the allegations dated back three years.
“This is a tough business. Illinois politics is hardball. People will say and do anything they want to,” Rutherford said at the time the lawsuit was filed. “I’m telling you right now that those allegations are absolutely false.”
This week, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow dismissed Michalowski’s suit, after Rutherford’s attorneys had argued Michalowski failed to provide sufficient evidence that he had any “plausible claims” against the treasurer.
For example, Michalowski claimed he was promised raises and promotions on multiple occasions, but never received either, because he didn’t support Rutherford’s campaign to the treasurer’s satisfaction. He alleged other employees who worked on Rutherford’s campaign for governor got raises and promotions instead.
Rutherford’s attorneys argued Michalowski provided no proof that he was ever forced to do any political work, or that Rutherford had any reason to believe Michalowski was doing campaign work involuntarily. They also said Michalowski failed to identify any specific employees who were given raises or promotions for their campaign work, or that Michalowski ever applied for a promotion, much less that he was denied one.
“Michalowski does not allege that Rutherford took any action that was linked in any way to Michalowski’s supposed failure to do political work” to Rutherford’s satisfaction, the treasurer’s attorneys wrote in their motion to dismiss the lawsuit. “There is simply no plausible basis to conclude that Michalowski’s … conduct motivated Rutherford to take any adverse action against him.”
Michalowski, who left Rutherford’s office just days before filing his suit and took a job with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, also claimed Rutherford had made repeated unwanted sexual advances toward him for three years.
In one instance, Michalowski claimed Rutherford invited him to the treasurer’s home in Chenoa in 2011 for what was purported to be an “office retreat,” but no other employees showed up, and after dinner, while Michalowski was in the guest bedroom, Rutherford came in and grabbed Michalowski’s genitals.
Michalowski alleged he confronted Rutherford’s chief of staff, Kyle Ham – who also is named as a defendant – about the encounter, and Ham told him “’it had happened to him as well,” and said, “at least we have job security,” according to a copy of the lawsuit.
Rutherford denied the encounter ever happened, and claimed Michalowski’s own travel vouchers indicated he had returned to his Chicago office by the time of the alleged confrontation at Rutherford’s house downstate.
In seeking to have Michalowski’s lawsuit dismissed, Rutherford’s attorneys argued he didn’t provide proof to back up his claims.
“The complaint does not include any facts showing gender discrimination or sexual harassment, including the existence of a hostile work environment,” Rutherford’s attorneys wrote.
Last month, Michalowski’s attorneys sought more time to respond to the motion to dismiss the case.
However, Lefkow denied that request this week, and dismissed the lawsuit, but gave Michalowski until June 12 to file a revised lawsuit.
Though Rutherford already was trailing in the polls when Michalowski leveled the allegations, his numbers plummeted after the lawsuit was filed, and Rutherford eventually came in last out of the four GOP candidates for governor.