Reinsdorf, Thompson ask dismissal of lawsuit by ex-sports authority chief

Tribune reporter

White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and former Gov. Jim Thompson are asking a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit brought against them by the former head of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, arguing among other things that the First Amendment does not protect a government employee from discipline based on speech pertaining to her job.

In her complaint, Perri Irmer charges that she was wrongfully fired as executive director in 2011 after more than six years managing the authority, a public agency that owns U.S. Cellular Field.

She alleges that Thompson, who served as the agency's board chairman, violated her constitutional right to exercise free speech without retaliation as she tried to reform the organization. She also says Thompson and Reinsdorf conspired to get her fired after she instituted certain changes.

In separate filings last week, Thompson and Reinsdorf asked U.S. District Judge John Nordberg to dismiss the suit, which Irmer brought in April. The men, longtime friends, have denied the allegations; Thompson's lawyer described them as "preposterous" in the filing.

Attorneys for both men argued that Irmer's speech is not constitutionally protected and thus there is no "actionable" conspiracy, court records show. Reinsdorf's lawyers also contend that Irmer alleged "no facts whatsoever" in the conspiracy claim and produced no communications between the two men concerning her.

After Irmer successfully pushed for the Sox to begin paying rent to the authority in 2008, Reinsdorf began lobbying then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich — now in prison for corruption — to have her fired, according to the suit. She is seeking unspecified damages for "substantial economic losses."

ISFA agreed in May to cover the legal expenses of Thompson as well as the cost of any settlement reached in the case, though the board specified that the agency could opt out if it had not approved the terms beforehand.

In the late 1980s, as Reinsdorf was threatening to move his team to Florida, then-Gov. Thompson worked the floors of the General Assembly to pass a law creating the authority and allowing a new park to be built for the Sox.

The agency later oversaw construction of the stadium, now called U.S. Cellular Field, and the financing for it. The authority also is paying off the public tab for the 2001 renovations at Soldier Field.

The authority — which is a defendant in the lawsuit — is funded mostly with hotel tax revenue and subsidies but gets $1.5 million in annual rent from the White Sox.

Twitter @jaredshopkins

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