Police Commission’s Decision Does Not Insulate City From Police Chief’s Retaliatory Motive

Daniel Rasic was a police officer with the City of Northlake, Illinois. When he was fired, Rasic sued the City and Police Chief Dennis A. Koletsos, claiming his termination was in retaliation for the exercise of his rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

When a jury found in Rasic’s favor and awarded him damages of $174,000, the City and Koletsos filed a motion seeking to overturn the jury’s verdict. Essentially conceding that Rasic had submitted enough proof of Koletsos’ retaliatory motive, the defendants argued instead that the decision by the Northlake Police Commission affirming Rasic’s termination essentially stripped the retaliatory motive out of the picture, and insulated the defendants from liability.

A federal district court disagreed, and upheld the verdict. The Court concluded that the evidence submitted at trial was sufficient to permit the jury to conclude that the retaliatory motive of Koletsos should be imputed to the Commission.

As the Court analyzed it: “First, there is evidence that Koletsos did not present to the Commission evidence that would have suggested that Rasic’s conduct did not warrant termination. Six of the charges Koletsos pressed with the Commission, and for which he sought Rasic’s termination, were based on Rasic’s refusal to attend court proceedings pursuant to subpoena while on FMLA leave. However, there is no evidence that Koletsos informed the Commission that many officers in the past had refused to attend court proceedings without being brought up on charges seeking termination, or that Koletsos, himself, did not view failing to go to court in response to a subpoena an offense worthy of termination. We have no doubt that the Commission could have found significant that Koletsos did not deem a failure to attend court an offense worthy of termination. Koletsos failed to make that clear and, in fact, he suggested the contrary by asserting Rasic’s failure to go to court as a principal basis for his termination. A jury reasonably could find this to be concealment of relevant information which warrants imputing Koletsos’ retaliatory intent to the Commission.

“Second, three of the charges upon which Koletsos based his request involved Rasic’s refusal to follow Koletsos’ order not to contact the State’s Attorney’s Office in order to explain why he would not appear pursuant to the subpoena and to seek a continuance of the trial date. The evidence showed that his order was contrary to departmental practice. Again, there is no evidence that Koletsos revealed that information to the Commission, or that the Commission was aware of it. Knowledge of that information likely would have prompted the Commissioners to wonder why Koletsos would issue such an order. It certainly could have affected the Commission’s determination as to whether Rasic was insubordinate in failing to follow an order that contravened departmental policy, or whether, if it was subordination, it was worthy of termination.

“The other three bases upon which Koletsos sought termination were acts of alleged insubordination that occurred during a July 24, 2007 telephone call between Koletsos and Rasic. The evidence at trial, however, showed that officers in the City of Northlake had committed far more egregious acts without being terminated, or for that matter, without being brought before the Commission on charges. A jury reasonably could conclude that these acts of subordination would not support termination or even bringing charges against Rasic before the Commission. A jury also could reasonably conclude that the way in which Koletsos framed the charges and decided what information to provide – and not to provide – to the Commission resulted in the Commission acting on the basis of his retaliatory motive. Thus, the evidence was sufficient to allow the jury to impute Koletsos’ retaliatory motive to the Commission.”

Because it also concluded that the City failed to prove that its conduct was reasonable and in good faith, the Court also awarded Rasic an additional $174,000 in liquidated damages.

Rasic v. City of Northlake, 2010 WL 3365918 (N.D. Ill. 2010).

This article appears in the November 2010 issue