SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A settlement in the workplace retaliation lawsuit against U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth concluded Friday with an agreement that no law was violated, removing an obstacle in her bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk in one of November's most competitive Senate races.
The lawsuit from two employees of a home for veterans alleged Duckworth, a Democrat, violated state ethics laws by taking action against them when she was head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. The workers contended that she tried to fire one employee and gave another a bad review that cost her raises after the women complained about facility leadership at an Illinois VA home, where they still work. Duckworth was appointed to lead the Illinois VA in 2006 by now-imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Duckworth had faced the possibility of testifying if the case went to trial months before the election, which would have given Kirk's campaign firepower to use the allegations to attack her and to make it an issue with voters.
The contest between Duckworth and Kirk is considered to be one of a handful of competitive races that can determine which party controls the Senate.
"Today's resolution is appropriate for what was always a frivolous workplace case that dragged on over eight years and was dismissed in whole or in part multiple times, and Tammy appreciates the hard work and professionalism of the lawyers in the Attorney General's office," Matt McGrath, Duckworth's deputy campaign manager said in a statement.
The attorney general's office represented Duckworth in the case. The attorney general is Lisa Madigan, a Democrat whose father is Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and chairman of the state Democratic Party.
As part of the settlement agreement, the attorney general's office is paying for the employees' attorney fees and other court costs, all of which totaled $26,000.
Shortly after the settlement was announced, Kirk's campaign made clear they would continue to use the case to bash Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who lost both her legs in 2004 when the helicopter she was piloting was shot down.
"We now know that there are 26,000 reasons why Tammy Duckworth was guilty," Kevin Artl, Kirk's campaign manager, said in a statement. "The simple truth is that if Tammy Duckworth was innocent, she would not have settled this case. Instead of taking the stand and testifying, Duckworth has chosen to stay silent and settle the case at taxpayer expense in order to hide from the truth."
The case was first filed in federal court, where a judge dismissed it. A state court judge did the same, but the case was narrowed and filed a third time in southern Illinois' Union County.
The attorney general's office said in a statement that during the hearing Friday "it became clear that we could resolve this matter" to avoid a costly trial.
AP writer Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this story.