Aide’s lawsuit against Dan Rutherford can proceed, judge rules

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Former Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford has not convinced a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit filed against him by a former aide |(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

A federal judge has ruled that the lawsuit that crippled former Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s gubernatorial run can go ahead.

Rutherford’s former aide, Edmund Michalowski, filed the suit just five weeks before the Republican primary last year, alleging Rutherford sexually harassed him and forced him to do political work on the state’s dime.

Rutherford — who came last in the primary and left public office in January — had claimed that the timing of the suit  showed that it was politically motivated. He wanted the lawsuit, which also targeted Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign and the State of Illinois, thrown out.

But U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow ruled Friday that Michalowski can proceed with his allegations that, during a series of unwanted sexual advances, Rutherford grabbed his genitals and told him, “If you go home with me, you can have anything you want in the office.”

“Michalowski alleged facts sufficient to state a hostile work environment claim,” Lefkow wrote in a 29-page ruling. The allegations go “beyond offhand comments and into physical assault” and “raise the possibility of severe or pervasive sexual harassment from a speculative to a plausible level,” the judge added.

Lefkow did, however, throw out racketeering claims made by Michalowski.

Michalowski hasn’t presented enough evidence that Rutherford, the state or the Romney campaign — which Rutherford served as state chairman — violated federal law by pressuring him into political work, Lefkow ruled.

Lefkow stopped short of sanctioning Michalowski’s lawyers for alleging RICO violations, as the defendants’ lawyers had asked. Her ruling does not prevent Michalowski from pursuing the racketeering claims in an amended lawsuit.

Michalowski’s attorney Dana Kurtz welcomed the ruling. “Ed wants to make sure that the type of sexual harassment he and others were subjected to by Rutherford will not happen to anyone else and hopes that by speaking out, others will come forward,” she said.

Newly elected Treasurer Michael Frerichs in January refused to release an internal report about the sexual-harassment allegations against Rutherford, saying he would release it when the lawsuit concludes.

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