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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

City Ordinance May Have Established Employment Contract

In 2007, Anthony Boswell was hired as the Executive Director of the City of Chicago’s Office of Compliance.  Prior to this period, the City of Chicago had been involved in a series of lawsuits later known as the Shakman litigation, which resulted in the City's agreement to eliminate political consideration from employment. The federal courts eventually adopted the City’s hiring plan which included Boswell, as the head of the Office of Compliance.  Boswell was appointed for a fixed term to be the head of the Office of Compliance and could not be removed except for cause.

Boswell resigned in 2010 and two years later sued the City of Chicago for breach of contract and promissory estoppel.  Boswell argued his work was met with “resistance and hostility” and he was often subject to “a campaign of petty and overt harassment.”  

The trial court dismissed the case, but the appellate court reversed, finding that Boswell's argument that the City's ordinance created a contract for the executive director position was sufficient to move forward.  In the court's view, the ordinance specified the intent to create a contract with the executive director and the intent of by the city council to set the executive director apart from every other city employee. The court also held that the executive director of an independent compliance office is not a typical "at-will" employee and should be able to rely on some contractual rights in order to exercise independence, discretion, and latitude necessary for this type of position. So, the court reversed the dismissal of Boswell's claims, and the case moves to the next stage where Boswell will have to show that the City's ordinance actually created a contract. 

The court also addressed Boswell’s promissory estoppel claim. It acknowledged that estoppel against public bodies is generally disfavored and allowed in only in rare circumstances, when necessary to prevent fraud and injustice. Here, however, Boswell's claims that the City promised that his office would be independent from political pressures and that he would be in control over his office were sufficient to move his estoppel claim forward. Boswell v. City of Chicago, 2016 IL App (1st)150871.

Post Authored by Megan Mack, Ancel Glink


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