Will 'Dallas v. CTU' be the next expensive legal mistake from Marilyn Stewart? Substance editor George Schmidt wins $166,000 after four-year legal battle against Stewart's 'You're fired!'

On June 12, 2008, Substance editor George N. Schmidt received a check for $166,774.38 signed by Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart following a four-year legal battle in a case that became known as “Schmidt v. Chicago Teachers Union.” The litigation, which was ultimately decided in favor of eight former employees of the union (one of whom was Schmidt) began in September 2004 after newly elected CTU President Marilyn Stewart fired a number of union workers who had contracts to continue their employment through June 30, 2005.

At the time he was fired, Schmidt was working as Director of School Security and Safety at the Chicago Teachers Union. He had a one year contract that went until June 30, 2005. The contract provided that he could be fired for cause, but not otherwise. According to some of the plaintiffs, the contract would have given the Stewart administration the opportunity to make a transition.

After Stewart fired a number of CTU workers in August and September 2004, Schmidt and seven others sued. Schmidt’s case was in Circuit Court, charging breach of contract, while others tried other theories of law. Ultimately, the cases were consolidated under the name “Schmidt v. CTU” in Circuit Court, and the case ended after trail on Schmidt’s damages in the courtroom of Circuit Judge Charles R. Winkler on May 14, 2008.

“This was a case that should never have been in court,” George Schmidt said after the trial on the amount of damages. “Early in the case, the judge ruled that we had a clear contract with the union. All Marilyn Stewart had to do was let each of us work until the end of that contract, just as a baseball player works out a contract. It was a ‘pay me or play me’ contract, something out of first year law school classes.”

The other plaintiffs in the case, each of whom settled at various points before Schmidt’s portion went to trial, were Allen Bearden, Stacy Carter, Sarah Loftus, Marty McGreal, Debby Pope, Jay Rehack, and Songutai Richie.

Schmidt said that he sued because he had a valid contract. He added that three former CTU employees (June Davis, Audrey Mae, and Diana Sheffer) had also successfully sued the union after they were fired by incoming union president Deborah Lynch in 2001. [See story at photos on the bottom of Page Nine of this Substance].

“One of the things we do as union people is defend the rights of workers,” Schmidt said. “To say — as Marilyn Stewart did at the June House of Delegates meeting to Debby Pope — that there is something wrong with defending your own rights as a worker is ridiculous. What should stop in the CTU is the violation of the rights of the people who work for the union, not the enforcement of those rights.”

The Schmidt case dragged out for nearly four years because union attorneys refused to settle the case. Despite misrepresentations by Marilyn Stewart about her reasons for firing the eight, at each point (and through three judges) the courts held that the eight had a valid contract at the time they were fired.

The total cost of Schmidt v. CTU to the union is not known for two reasons. During the lengthy case, CTU attorneys were billing by the quarter hour, and the union has refused to report to the Delegates or members the total cost of the attorneys’ fees and costs from the litigation. Additionally, CTU attorneys asked each of the plaintiffs — except Schmidt — to settle before the case went to the final trial phase, and each did. A condition of each settlement was that the plaintiffs not disclose the amount of the settlement. The CTU has not reported those amounts, or the attorneys fees. Nor has the CTU reported the earlier settlements with Davis, May, and Sheffer.

“Although the legal costs are the biggest waste of money to the CTU in our cases,” Schmidt said, “dragging the case out for nearly four years had other costs as well. By the time we went to trial on the amount of damages, CTU owed me $24,000 in interest because they had stalled so long.”

Schmidt points out that more than half of the $166,000 went to taxes and legal fees.

“I would have preferred to work out my contract with the union and make a reasonable transition if that’s what Marilyn Stewart wanted,” he said. “Instead, she simply screamed ‘You’re fired’ at her first staff meeting in August 2004. She forced me to defend my rights and, ultimately, the rights of a total of eight of us. I’ve defended the rights of teachers and PSRPs against principals, and I continued to defend workers’ rights when my rights were violated by Marilyn Stewart. The union’s members would have been much better served if I had continued working as Director of School Security and Safety until the end of my contract.”

Schmidt added that he now believes that the illegal termination of the contract of Ted Dallas will result in another round of expensive litigation that the CTU will again lose. “Bad legal advice doesn’t improve with age,” Schmidt said. Larry Poltrock gave CTU bad legal advice in my case, and now he’s giving CTU bad legal advice in the Dallas case. At some point, the only way to stop this kind of thing is for Marilyn Stewart to stop setting union policy based on bad legal advice.”

Throughout the litigation, George Schmidt was represented by the law firm of Alan Barinholtz. “The patience, persistence and professionalism of my attorneys — Alan Barinholtz and Bill Melichar — was often in contrast to the kinds of things we were seeing from the other side,” Schmidt said. “With the CTU facing a losing case all along, it was sad to watch the case drawn out because of the legal advice given Marilyn Stewart by Larry Poltrock.”


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