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Daily Journal
     June 19, 2020      #55-171 KDJ

Retired Kankakee firefighter sues city,


Daily Journal staff report

KANKAKEE — The former deputy chief of the Kankakee Fire Department, Jeff Bruno, and his attorneys at The Walters Law Firm have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Kankakee, the city's Human Rights Director James Ellexson and Mayor Chastity Well-Armstrong.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court of the Central District of Illinois in March, according to a news release from the law firm received this week.

Bruno worked for the fire department for almost 29 years. Prior to that he served in the U.S. Army from 1984-90.

The lawsuit alleges the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Illinois’ Human Rights Act related to reasonable accommodations, retaliation and wrongful termination.

The lawsuit seeks damages and unpaid wages, and an award of litigation costs and expenses.

Bruno deferred comment to his attorneys.

Representing the city of Kankakee, the law firm of Hervas, Condon and Bersani released a statement, saying, "The case is pending litigation. The city has no comment other than the city is vigorously defending the matter in court."

The next court date is Sept. 9.

The lawsuit said Bruno was subjected to discrimination and retaliation after communicating with another former firefighter who is also suing the city.

That firefighter is Lt. Michelle Giese. She is suing the city, Fire Chief Damon Schuldt and firefighter Lt. Nathan Boyce. The Walters Law Firm also represents Giese. The next court date is Aug. 3, according to online records.

Giese’s lawsuit said Boyce struck Giese multiple times as she was trying to rescue an elderly woman during a blaze in October 2018. The fire resulted in one fatality.

Boyce received a one-day suspension in the incident, the lawsuit said.

In the last months of Bruno’s employment at the department, he was told that the city was amending his employment contract to no longer make accommodations for his disability, ultimately forcing Bruno to seek early retirement, the release said.

After Bruno objected to the city’s unfair treatment, the city and Ellexson threatened him with demotion.

According to the complaint, Bruno suffered a life-threatening cardiac incident in September 2017. After which, he requested doctor-ordered accommodations in order to recuperate.

In January 2019, the city agreed to accommodations. However in July 2019, those accommodations were unilaterally withdrawn without explanation and in violation of his employment contract, despite his exemplary work performance, the release said.

Ellexson and Wells-Armstrong told him that if he didn’t sign the amended employment contract, he would be demoted.

Bruno alleges in the lawsuit this unexplained withdrawal of his accommodations was in retaliation for exercising his right to communicate with the former firefighter.

In response to being threatened with a demotion if he did not agree to employment terms that violated his doctor’s orders, Bruno signed the contract and promptly informed the city that he was retiring in August 2019.

The complaint states Ellexson and Well-Armstrong intentionally forced Bruno into early retirement, inflicted emotional pain and distress on him, and humiliated him. The result was that his mental, emotional and physical condition worsened immeasurably, in addition to having his career cut short, significantly impacting his retirement pension.

The action alleges the city violated the ADA and Illinois’ Human Rights Act related to reasonable accommodations, retaliation and wrongful termination.

The lawsuit seeks damages and unpaid wages, and an award of litigation costs and expenses.

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