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Politics & Policy

Duckworth Lawsuit to Continue After Plaintiffs Reject Settlement

Two women suing Representative Tammy Duckworth, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Illinois, rejected an agreed upon settlement offer on Wednesday, forcing the case to go to trial next month, according to the Daily Herald.

The timing is unfortunate for Duckworth, who is running to unseat Senator Mark Kirk, one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection this year. The formal rejection of the settlement comes the day before Duckworth is set to take the stage at the Democratic National Convention. And per the Herald, the trial will take place on August 15, in the heat of campaign season.

The lawsuit centers on a claim by the two women that they were fired from their jobs at the Anna Veterans Home by Duckworth, then the head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, for complaints about improper behavior on the part of their boss. In June, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the two parties had agreed to a $26,000 settlement.

But on Wednesday, the Herald reports, the two women rejected the offer. The two women, Denise Goins and Christine Butler, said they were offended by the Duckworth campaign’s characterization of the lawsuit as “a frivolous workplace case” following the announcement of the settlement proposal.

The lawsuit has become a major line of attack for the Kirk campaign. An ad that began running in the aftermath of the settlement’s announcement last month attacks her for overseeing “shoddy veterans care” and wasting taxpayer money on the lawsuit (the Illinois attorney general represented Duckworth), characterizing her decision to settle instead of testifying as a “cover up.”

That wording will have to change with the rejection of the settlement. But in a statement after the Daily Herald report, Kirk campaign manager Kevin Artl repeated the charge.

“The fact that Duckworth continued to bully and attack these whistleblowers even during settlement discussions is a window into her true character. Now that the trial is set, it is finally time for Duckworth to truthfully account for her actions,” he said.

Some Democrats suggested the timing of the two women rejecting the lawsuit was suspect, coming the day before Duckworth’s address in Philadelphia. Artl says the campaign had no discussions with the two plaintiffs about their decision, and says they were under the impression that the whole case had been settled, noting that they had already begun running an ad attacking her for settling. Artl adds that he spoke with the two women by phone in their capacity as whistleblowers, saying they reached out to the campaign after the settlement was announced to tell their story.

A spokesman for Duckworth referred requests for comment to the Illinois attorney general’s office. A spokeswoman there did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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