Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Former city employee sues Evanston, Biss, for retaliation to Israel-Hamas war comments

The+lawsuit+alleges+the+city+terminated+Bird+in+retaliation+for+personal+statements+sympathetic+to+the+Palestinian+people+in+Gaza.
Daily file photo by Colin Boyle
The lawsuit alleges the city terminated Bird in retaliation for personal statements sympathetic to the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Former city official Liam Bird filed a lawsuit against Evanston, Mayor Daniel Biss, Interim Corporation Counsel Alexandra Ruggie and City Manager Luke Stowe on Friday morning. It alleges the city terminated Bird in retaliation for personal statements sympathetic to the Palestinian people in Gaza.

The city fired Bird on the heels of a controversial resolution proposed, then withdrawn, by the Equity and Empowerment Commission calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. 

The commission discussed the ceasefire resolution at its Nov. 30 meeting, almost two months after the outbreak of conflict in Gaza, which has seen Israeli strikes kill upwards of 23,000 Palestinians after Hamas militants killed about 1,200 Israelis on Oct. 7. 

The commissioners withdrew the resolution three days later after Ruggie had ruled that such a resolution would fall beyond the commission’s purview. 

Bird’s lawsuit alleges that the city willfully tried to connect him with the drafting of the ordinance, even though he had minimal involvement. The lawsuit describes Bird’s role in the resolution akin to a messenger, rather than creator of the legislation. 

The lawsuit says that Equity and Empowerment commissioners sent him a draft resolution on Nov. 16, which he forwarded to Ruggie and Stowe. And on Nov. 20, he passed Stowe’s and Policy Coordinator Alison Leipsiger’s proposed edits to the commission, according to the lawsuit. 

However, the lawsuit says that Biss, while criticizing the resolution, identified Bird as “the sole Evanston employee associated with the commission.” And it says on Nov. 21, the day after Stowe and Leipsiger proposed changes to the commission, Bird was added as a staff member to the Equity and Empowerment Commission website, even though he had not been listed on the webpage during his previous six months of employment.

The lawsuit claims that attempts to connect Bird to the resolution were part of a “plan” to retaliate against him for past personal comments sympathetic to Palestine. 

In the days following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, Bird posted and reposted a number of messages supportive of the Palestinian people to personal social media accounts. The lawsuit says that Bird and Leipsiger argued about the war in advance of a city meeting on Oct. 11, and it alleges that Leipsiger then reported Bird’s comments to Stowe.

The city placed Bird on administrative leave on Dec. 5 and fired him on Dec. 29. 

The lawsuit alleges Stowe told Bird that he was not fired for his role with the Equity and Empowerment Commission, but rather because he was an “at will employee.” At-will employees can be fired at any time without cause, including for speech. However, speech by government employees is protected by the First Amendment, so long as it is made in a personal capacity, doesn’t interfere with the person’s work and is about a topic of public concern. 

Bird is suing the city for damages, lost wages and attorney fees. The suit requests a trial by jury.

Biss, Stowe and Leipsiger could not be immediately reached for comment. In a written statement to The Daily, city spokesperson Jessie Mayo said the city does not comment on pending litigation, but it “fully support(s) First Amendment rights for all, including employees, and will vigorously defend any claim to the contrary.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @charcole27

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