The Riverside village board, without comment on Sept. 5, voted 4 to 1 to pay $350,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed in 2011 against the village and Deputy Fire Chief Matthew Buckley by former Fire Chief Kevin Mulligan.
By agreeing to an out-of-court settlement, the village was able to avoid incurring more expenses related to the litigation, including much more substantial payout had the court ruled against the village at trial.
“It is frustrating to see out residents’ tax dollars spent in such a manner,” said Village President Ben Sells in a press release issued Sept. 6. “Still, the village board has acted in the best interests of the village by taking this step to move forward and put this case behind us.”
Reached by the Landmark on Monday and given the opportunity to elaborate on the reasons for the village settling the case, Sells referred the newspaper to the press release.
Sells did not vote on the settlement agreement. Trustees Doug Pollock, Ellen Hamilton, Patricia Collins and Joseph Ballerine voted to accept the settlement. Trustee Michael Foley voted against it. Trustee Jean Sussman was absent from the village board meeting where the vote was taken.
Asked if he wanted to comment about voting against the settlement, Foley stated, “I really don’t. My vote says it all.”
Buckley declined to comment on the case, citing a confidentiality agreement he said he had signed.
Patrick Walsh, the attorney for Kevin Mulligan, indicated that Riverside hurt itself by firing the former chief.
“I think, in the end, Riverside lost a great employee,” Walsh said.
Of the $350,000 being paid out by the village, $87,500 is coming directly from the village’s general operating fund. The rest of the settlement amount is being paid for by the village’s insurance carrier, IRMA.
According to the terms of the settlement, $120,000 will be paid to Mulligan in the form of wages, subject to payroll deductions. Another $113,333 will be paid to Mulligan as a “non-wage consideration,” according to the deal.
The village will pay the law firm of Mulligan’s attorney $116,667 for attorneys’ fees and costs related to the claim.
In addition, the village agreed to give Mulligan a retirement axe, watch and badge in acrylic “as it has given other individuals who have retired from service to the village’s fire department.”
The village board will vote separately in executive session whether Mulligan can wear a retired village firefighter uniform to special events. In exchange for the money and other considerations, Mulligan agreed to have his case against the village and Buckley dismissed. In addition, he agreed not to seek employment with the village in the future.
The village continues to deny it violated laws or Mulligan’s rights when the village board chose to fire Mulligan in April 2011 after a three-year dispute between Mulligan and Buckley, during which Mulligan gave Buckley poor performance reviews and Buckley’s complaints about the chief drinking on the job landed Mulligan on administrative leave twice.
Mulligan filed the five-count lawsuit against the village and Buckley in November 2011, claiming the village had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act because the village board believed Mulligan to be an alcoholic and fired him because of that perception. In addition, Mulligan claimed Buckley’s complaints against him constituted defamation and created a hostile workplace.
In June, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald A. Guzman dismissed three of the lawsuit’s five counts but ruled that Mulligan’s claims of an ADA violation and defamation had enough merit to take to trial.
After Guzman’s ruling in June, Mulligan’s attorney appeared very sure Mulligan would prevail if the case went to trial.
“I’m supremely confident going into trial, if it gets to trial,” Walsh said.
This story has been changed to reflect that Matt Buckley did return the Landmark’s call, but declined to comment.