Illinois Battalion Chief Alleges Retaliation and Conspiracy

An Illinois battalion chief has filed suit against four elected officials and two firefighter- colleagues alleging a wide-ranging conspiracy to retaliate against him because he complained that his firefighter-wife was being sexually harassed.

Battalion Chief Todd Allen filed suit in US District Court on Monday against the City of Moline; Aldermen Stephanie Acri, John Zelnio, Mike Wendt and David Parker; Battalion Chief Kevin Irby; and firefighter Scott Houzenga.

Chief Allen claims that his wife, former Moline firefighter Heather Allen, had been subjected to a sexually hostile work environment forcing her to eventually resign. He alleges FF Houzenga was “was directly involved in the sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation against Heather Allen,”

The complaint continues:

  • After Plaintiff Todd Allen supported Heather Allen’s complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination, Defendant Houzenga started retaliating against Plaintiff Todd Allen.
  • Defendant Houzenga elicited others to participate in the retaliation against Plaintiff, including the other named individual Defendants.
  • Defendant Houzenga currently works on Defendant Battalion Chief Irby’s shift. Defendants Houzenga and Irby have been conspiring to retaliate against Plaintiff and involving certain members of the City Council in the retaliation, including Defendant City Council members/Aldermen Acri, Wendt, Zelnio, and Parker.
  • Defendants have also subjected Plaintiff Todd Allen to numerous acts of retaliation in the form of harassment because of the fact that he is non-political, and did not and does not support Acri in her run for Mayor.
  • Defendant Acri attempted to get on the ballot for Mayor, but failed to comply with State of Illinois election law with respect to her petitions, and she was removed from the ballot. Defendant Acri is currently running as a “write-in” candidate.
  • Defendant Acri was represented by the law firm of Lane & Waterman, LLP, which is the same firm that is “investigating” Defendant Irby’s and Houzenga’s retaliatory allegations of timekeeping abuse against Plaintiff as described in more detail below.
  • The City of Moline is now paying Defendant Acri’s firm on her mayoral petitions for this retaliatory investigation, which is in the least an appearance of a conflict and impartial investigation.
  • In July 2015, Defendant Acri made false allegations against Plaintiff Todd Allen, which were published in the paper. As a result of Defendant Acri’s allegations, the City spent over $35,000 to defend the allegations. It was found that Defendant Acri’s allegations were false.
  • In March 2016, a formal inquiry was raised over concerns with respect to Plaintiff’s timekeeping and use of flex time.
  • The investigation resulted in a finding of no wrongdoing by Plaintiff
  • Defendant Irby continued to make false allegations against Plaintiff claiming that he engaging in misconduct and stole time, when in fact, Plaintiff did not, and despite the fact that Plaintiff was cleared of any wrongdoing in the investigation.
  • On January 22, 2017, attorney Mikki Schiltz of Lane & Waterman, LLP, interviewed Plaintiff Todd Allen of alleged timekeeping issues.
  • As part of Schiltz’s line of questioning during the interview, Schiltz brought up Todd Allen’s wife, Heather Allen, as part of the numerous questions asked, despite the fact that the “investigation” was supposed to be on timekeeping issues and not Plaintiff’s wife.
  • Defendants initiated this frivolous, discriminatory, and retaliatory investigation of alleged timekeeping issues, even though Plaintiff had already been exonerated of any wrongdoing.
  • In fact, Schiltz, Lane & Waterman LLP, and the City Council have been informed that there was already an investigation into timekeeping concerns, and that there was a finding of no wrongdoing.
  • This second “investigation” conducted by Lane & Waterman, which was initiated by Defendants Irby, Acri, Wendt, and Parker, has been used by Defendants as a political talking point to try to influence the election in Defendant Acri’s favor and to retaliate against Plaintiff Todd Allen.

The complaint includes four counts:

  • Count I – 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Violation of First and Fourteenth Amendment
  • Count II – 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Violation of First Amendment
  • Count III – 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Conspiracy
  • Count IV – Defamation against Defendants Irby, Zelnio and Parker

Here is a copy of the complaint: Allen v Moline

Here is a link to a news story about the case with a video I was unable to embed.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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