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SPRINGFIELD — A trial date has been set in a whistle-blower lawsuit involving U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth.

In a case dating to her tenure as a member of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration, the Democrat from Hoffman Estates is alleged to have retaliated against two employees of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

After six years of legal wrangling, a Union County judge on June 2 scheduled a bench trial for April 4, 2016. A pre-trial hearing is set for Aug. 4 at the courthouse in Jonesboro.

The trial date comes as Duckworth is in the midst of trying to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk in the November 2016 election. She faces a March 2016 primary challenge from Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp.

Allegations outlined in a September 2009 amended complaint say Duckworth, who headed the agency from December 2006 to 2009, violated state ethics rules and inflicted emotional distress on two employees of the Anna Veterans' Home.

In the suit, employees Christine Butler and Denise Goins say they ran into trouble at their jobs after complaining about the facility's acting chief, Patria Simms.

Butler said Duckworth fired her during a visit to the Anna facility, saying she had been "insubordinate." The termination was reversed four days later and she was placed on paid leave.

On the same day Butler was fired, Duckworth is alleged to have met with Goins, who said she had been given negative evaluations after reporting what she believed were breaches of state rules by Simms.

During the meeting, Duckworth referred to Butler's termination and "intentionally sought to prevent Goins from raising any further complaints, stating, `If you do your job and keep your mouth shut and concentrate on job duties, you will keep your job,'" the lawsuit notes.

Goins "reasonably believed that this statement violated her right to report misconduct as a whistleblower" under state law.

Duckworth left the state position for a job in the Obama administration in 2009. Neither her congressional office or her campaign office returned messages.

Its not the first time Duckworth has faced questions about the lawsuit during a run for office. During her successful 2012 bid for the 8th district congressional seat, Republican incumbent Joe Walsh talked about the court case at a debate.

At the time, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office had sought to have the case dismissed.

Follow Kurt Erickson on Twitter @Illinois_Stage

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