Religious Discrimination Still Exists Says Chicago Employment Lawyer
Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) March 28, 2012 - This case was a long battle to make a religious statement, which was the woman’s right to begin with.
“In SHORELINE TOWERS CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION v. Debra GASSMAN, Gassman had mounted a mezuzah to the door post of her condo. The Association took exception to that, saying it violated the rules about putting personal objects in common areas, which included halls and doorways. The Association kept removing the mezuzah when she put it back up,” outlined Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace.
Annoyed, Gassman filed numerous lawsuits alleging religious discrimination, including one with the Attorney General of the State of Illinois, which was closed, as the Association changed its rules to allow religious objects to be displayed in common areas. She also filed religious discrimination complaints with the City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations and launched a case in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
In 2005, the city of Chicago amended its Fair Housing Ordinance, banning condominium associations from meddling in the religious observances of tenants. In 2006, the state brought a similar law into existence, but added that condo boards were not allowed to interfere with the mounting of religious objects on the front-door area of a unit. 765 ILCS 605/18.4(h) (West 2008).
In 2007, the Condo Association filed a complaint against tenant Gassman, suggesting she carried on a campaign of intimidation and harassment, using her position as an attorney, to get a favorable outcome for herself. “They suggested her behavior interfered with the proper administration of their property and had earned them the inaccurate label of being anti-Semitic. Interestingly, the condo manager has a crucifix on the door outside his unit,” Coffey added.
The Condo Association complaint listed ten counts: request for an injunction, defamation, injunctive relief to stop Gassman defaming them, defamation against the property manager, injunctive relief to stop defamation against the manager, intentional infliction of emotional distress on the manager, injunctive relief to stop Gassman from causing said distress, allegations of conspiracy to use her position to her advantage with police, alleged spiteful prosecution for filing suits after her complaint was dismissed by Department of Human Rights, and allegations she used her position as an attorney in violation of section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2006)) (count X).
Gassman filed to dismiss the motion, and it went to appeal. Gassman argued the Condo Association’s complaint should be discharged according to the Illinois Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation Act (Anti-SLAPP). That Act states, in brief, that the constitutional rights of citizens to be involved in the process of government must be encouraged. 735 ILCS 110/5 (West 2008)
Gassman stated she originally filed her claim as she believed she was the victim of religious discrimination when the Condo management kept removing her mezuzah. It appears her complaint resulted in the amendment of the Condo Associations rules, and in retaliation the Association filed their ten-count complaint.
Four Counts seek an injunction against Gassman's right of association and speech. The balance of the counts seeks damages as a result of activities protected by statute: speech, association, exercise of religious freedom, and petitioning the government.
Gassman stood up for her rights and was successful in defending them. The court suggested the association counts were a strategic lawsuit against public participation, and there was not much in the way of case law dealing with this kind of suit. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss.
The Anti-SLAPP law protects defendants from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), which harass people exercising their constitutional rights, like petitioning the government. Mund v. Brown, 393 Ill.App.3d 994, 995, 332 Ill. Dec. 935, 913 N.E.2d 1225 (2009). In this decision, the courts stated the General Assembly was extensive outlining the scope and goals of the Act.
“Part of the rationale delivered indicated that: information, reports, opinions, claims, arguments, and other expressions provided by citizens are crucial to law enforcement, the operation of government, making public policy and decisions, and the continuation of democracy. The laws, courts, etc., must provide the utmost protection for the free exercise of petition, speech, association, and government participation,” observed Coffey.
Civil actions for monetary damages are being filed with increasing regularity against citizens and organizations for exercising their constitutional rights. This threat reduces public participation and the inherent abuse of the judicial process has been used to punish citizens and organizations for getting involved in public affairs. The Act protects all constitutional forms of expression and does not need a lawsuit to be filed while protected conduct is ongoing.
Ultimately, the superior court affirmed the decisions of the circuit court.
Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit Employmentlawcounsel.com.
THE COFFEY LAW OFFICE, P.C.
351 W. Hubbard Street, Suite 602
Chicago, IL 60654
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