Kevin MulliganFormer fire chief

A federal judge on June 3 tossed out three counts of a five-count lawsuit leveled at the village of Riverside and Deputy Fire Chief Matthew Buckley by former Fire Chief Kevin Mulligan.

However, two of Mulligan’s complaints are still valid stated Guzman, including Mulligan’s allegation that when Riverside fired him in March 2011, it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Guzman also refused to dismiss Mulligan’s claim that Buckley defamed Mulligan when Buckley had reported to Village Manager Peter Scalera in February 2011 that Mulligan was drinking alcohol on the job. In the instance cited, it was later determined that Mulligan was off duty at the time.

The case is headed back to U.S. District Court in Chicago for a status hearing on June 17.

Mulligan’s attorney, Patrick Walsh, said the judge’s ruling was not disappointing. Two of the counts, related to the village’s liability for allegedly violating ADA, were “duplicative,” according to Walsh. The third ruling absolved the village from engaging in a retaliatory firing of Mulligan.

“We didn’t lose anything on the facts other than the retaliation,” said Walsh. “In my opinion we got everything we wanted out of the decision.”

The case could go to trial within a couple of months unless it is settled out of court. Mulligan is seeking more than $100,000 in damages.

“I’m supremely confident going into trial if it gets to trial,” Walsh said.

Heather Becker, the lead attorney for the village of Riverside, declined to comment on the case.

“Due to the fact that the litigation is ongoing, the village has no comment at this time,” Becker wrote in an emailed response to the Landmark.

Buckley’s attorney, Paul Rettberg, did not respond to an email or phone message from the Landmark seeking comment.

Guzman’s opinion also shed new light on the facts of the lawsuit, including the revelation that Scalera had also recommended in March 2011 that the village terminate both Buckley and Capt. Bill Sherman in addition to Mulligan.

Sherman, according to the lawsuit, was the person who told Scalera on Feb. 3, 2011 that Mulligan was at a Lyons tavern, drinking while on duty. Scalera later determined that Mulligan was off-duty at the time. He also initially stated Buckley was involved in the report.

Scalera later said Buckley was not involved in the Feb. 3, 2011 report. While emails to the village board in 2011 state that both Buckley and Sherman reported the incident, Scalera, in a court deposition in 2013, reportedly said he had assumed Buckley was involved, but that Buckley actually had not been involved.

Neither Buckley nor Sherman was fired. After Mulligan’s termination, Sherman acted as interim chief until Spencer Kimura was hired to lead the department in August 2011. Buckley was named deputy chief that December.

The lawsuit also reveals that Mulligan submitted a letter of resignation to then-Village President Michael Gorman in September 2010 after Buckley had accused him of drinking on the job on three dates that summer. Mulligan was placed on administrative leave at the time.

A week later Mulligan rescinded the letter of resignation, telling Gorman he wanted a hearing with the village board and was hiring a lawyer. The hearing ended with Buckley reportedly unable to indisputably prove his claims and Mulligan being reinstated as chief.

Mulligan claims in his lawsuit that Buckley’s statements were meant “to portray Mulligan as an alcoholic and thereby advance his own career.”

The events of 2011 were the culmination of a years-long dispute between Buckley and Mulligan. Buckley accused Mulligan of drinking on the job on multiple occasions between 2008 and 2011, resulting in Mulligan being placed on leave on at least two occasions while the matters were investigated. Buckley also complained that the deteriorating relationship between him and Mulligan led to unfair poor performance reports.

The repeated reports of on-duty drinking had a clear effect on village officials. In early 2009, Mulligan returned to work only after being cleared by an “employee assistance program” that determined Mulligan was not alcohol-dependent and if he abided by conditions of a “last chance agreement” that called for periodic alcohol screenings.

At the October 2010 hearing, which Mulligan requested after rescinding his resignation, members of the village board “said they believed [Mulligan] had been drinking on duty, but all of them agreed there was no ‘absolute proof’ of that fact,” according to Guzman’s opinion.

One board member, unnamed, stated that regardless of the proof, “we believe [Mulligan] can’t lead the department, so he has to go.”

In January 2011, Scalera reportedly told village board members he believed Mulligan had a drinking problem.

“I think he … probably has a drinking problem,” said Scalera, according to Guzman’s written opinion. “And he has been very good at hiding it.”