On October 24, 2014, the United States District Court appointed a Special Master to investigate and report on employment practices within the Illinois Department of Transportation (“IDOT”).  Except in limited circumstances, the State of Illinois, including IDOT, is prohibited from taking political factors into consideration when making employment decisions. Shakman, et al., v. Democratic Organization of Cook County, et al., Case No. 69 C 2145 (“Shakman lawsuit”); Rutan v. the Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 62 (1990) (“Rutan lawsuit”).  The Special Master is investigating whether IDOT’s employment practices violate these prohibitions and you may submit information to the Special Master as part of this investigation.

History of Relevant Litigation

In 1969, the Shakman lawsuit was filed against various defendants, including the State of Illinois by Michael Shakman and other plaintiffs (“Plaintiffs”). As a result of that suit, on May 5, 1972, the Court entered an order enjoining then Governor Richard B. Ogilvie, individually and as Governor for the State of Illinois, his successors in office, and other defendants from “conditioning, basing or knowingly prejudicing or affecting any term or aspect of governmental employment, with respect to one who is at the time already a governmental employee, upon or because of any political reason or factor” (“1972 Decree”).

The 1972 Decree covers a majority of employment positions within the State government, including many within the Illinois Department of Transportation (“IDOT”).

Moreover, the United States Supreme Court in the Rutan lawsuit held that “conditioning hiring decisions on political belief and association plainly constitutes an unconstitutional condition, unless the government has a vital interest in doing so.” To show a vital interest, the government must prove that “party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office involved.”

The Shakman lawsuit is ongoing and the Plaintiffs recently alleged that the Governor of Illinois “applied prohibited political considerations to reassign numerous State employees from exempt to non-exempt positions” in violation of Rutan and the 1972 Decree. On April 22, 2014, the Plaintiffs filed an Amended Motion for Entry of Supplemental Relief with Respect to the Governor of Illinois seeking, among other things, the appointment of a Special Master.

The Plaintiffs allege that IDOT improperly created or reclassified numerous “Staff Assistant” or “Executive Secretary” positions as Rutan-exempt even though the jobs performed by those employees should be Rutan-covered. Additionally, according to the Plaintiffs, the “faux-exempt positions” were improperly filled with employees based on political consideration rather than qualifications—in violation of Rutan and the 1972 Decree.

The OEIG Investigation

In April of 2011, the OEIG began investigating IDOT hiring practices. That investigation included the misuse of the “Staff Assistant” position. The OEIG found a number of irregularities and concluded that IDOT engaged in employment practices that circumvented administrative orders designed to comply with Rutan. A redacted copy of the OEIG Report was published on August 22, 2014, by the Executive Ethics Commission.

The Special Master’s Appointment

On October 24, 2014, United States Magistrate Judge Sidney I. Schenkier appointed Noelle C. Brennan as the Court's Special Master in the ongoing Shakman lawsuit to investigate Plaintiffs’ allegations regarding IDOT.

On November 18, 2014, the Court directed the Special Master, along with her staff and appointed legal counsel, to: (i) investigate the scope and reason for any violations of the 1972 Decree regarding IDOT; (ii) recommend measures that may be necessary or appropriate to prevent any recurrence; (iii) assess the implementation of those efforts to ensure that they are effective; (iv) address whether positions in IDOT labeled as exempt were properly exempt under applicable legal principles; and, (v) make recommendations for how to remedy any violations of the 1972 Decree.

If you have any information about IDOT employment practices, or examples of unfair politically motivated employment decisions, please contact the Special Master’s office. You may submit information online through this website or contact the Special Master’s office directly.