Excerpts from the ChicagoTribune.com:
An Oak Lawn firefighter who was dismissed in February after being accused of on-duty misconduct has reached a six-figure settlement agreement with the village over his termination.
Robert Lanz, a 15-year veteran of the Oak Lawn Fire Department, will receive a combined $100,000 — $42,040 for his accrued paid time-off benefits and an additional sum of $57,960 — and have all records of being disciplined over the allegations rescinded and removed from his personnel file, according to the terms of the agreement.
He will be considered to have resigned Feb. 16, rather than terminated, and will be entitled to collect his accrued paid time-off benefits, which had been specifically designated for him, as a result, village officials said.
While village officials continue to contend that Lanz engaged in on-duty misconduct, they said they opted for a pragmatic resolution of the issue to avoid further expensive and time-consuming litigation.
Officials said they felt confident in the village’s ability to prove its case but that if an arbitrator were to reinstate Lanz under the “just cause” standard, which protects against arbitrary or unfair termination, the financial consequences — like providing back pay and continued health insurance and pension obligations — would have been significant, likely in the high six figures.
Lanz, a onetime International Association of Firefighters Local 3405 union officer, came under scrutiny last year after being accused of misappropriating union funds for personal use, court records show. The Cook County sheriff’s office investigated the allegations but did not pursue criminal charges.
However, when village officials reviewed an audit of the firefighter union’s expenses performed as part of the sheriff’s investigation, they found numerous unsupported (phone) charges were attributed to Lanz, Village Manager Larry Deetjen said in a sworn court statement. Many of the charges Lanz incurred stemmed from two businesses that offer phone sex services and appeared to have happened at times when he was on duty, Deetjen said.
As a result, the village conducted a multiweek investigation into Lanz’s actions and ultimately fired him in early February for violations of multiple departmental rules and regulations.
He denied any wrongdoing and filed a grievance contesting his termination.
“All they have are some records, and they have no other information other than what they’ve interpreted records to mean,” Lanz’s then-attorney Patrick Walsh said last December.
Walsh, who claimed the village’s case was based on speculation, attributed his client’s dismissal to his involvement with the union.
In addition to agreeing not to speak ill of Lanz and his tenure in Oak Lawn, the village also provided him a reference letter that notes his good operational skills as a firefighter-paramedic, as part of the settlement agreement.
Mayor Sandra Bury, who said the terms of the agreement left her somewhat hamstrung to articulate the village’s case against Lanz and its decision to settle with him, implored taxpayers to trust that the board had acted in their best interest.
“Not everything is as it seems,” she said. “(Taxpayers) have to be confident that we acted in their best interest on this financially. There’s no benefit to the other path for the taxpayers. What’s important is closure and moving on for all parties.”