Lake County auditor wins suit filed by former employee
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org February 22, 2013 4:18PM
Stephanie Dowell/Post-Tribune Peggy Katona (far right) is sworn in as Lake County Auditor by Judge Lorenzo Arredondo (far left) while her mother Irene Holinga (center left) and Lake County Commissioner Rudy Clay (center right) look on outside the auditor's office at the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point September 26, 2005. Holinga replaced Katona as county treasurer when Katona officially resigned to take on the auditor slot following the death of auditor Stephen Stiglich this summer.
Updated: March 24, 2013 6:12AM
A federal jury sided with Lake County Auditor Peggy Katona in a civil trial that accused her of firing an employee because of political differences.
The four-day trial at the U.S. District Court in Hammond wrapped up Friday with the jury’s verdict against plaintiff Betty Ruth Nelson.
Nelson was fired from the auditor’s office in May 2008 shortly after the primary presidential election, in which President Barack Obama defeated his opponent Hillary Clinton.
Nelson claimed in her lawsuit that Katona openly supported Clinton and also knew Nelson supported Obama. Nelson at one point complained to a supervisor when she saw another employee was allowed to show a sign at her desk supporting Clinton when Nelson was told she couldn’t show one in support of Obama, although the Clinton sign was soon taken down.
Nelson claimed in her suit that Katona violated her free speech rights because she fired Nelson based on her support for Obama.
However, Katona’s attorneys said in court filings that Nelson had a history of reprimands and complaints from other employees. She was finally fired after she tried to claim paid leave for a woman she could not prove she was related to.
Michael Bosch, who represented Katona, said Nelson was fired because of the culmination of the problems. He added he was proud to work with Katona.
“This was a bad employee, and it would send the wrong message to give her a bunch of money in settlement,” he said.
Nelson’s attorneys could not be reached for comment.