Archive for October 9th, 2018

Sexual harassment lawsuit against Country Club Hills (more)

Excerpts from the

Country Club Hills has forfeited its defense of a female firefighter’s 2012 sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuit over its repeated failure to comply with court orders, a judge has ruled.

Judge Brigid Mary McGrath entered the Oct. 2 default judgment after a lawyer for Firefighter Dena Lewis-Bystrzycki presented a recently discovered fire department memo the city had not turned over, despite city officials’ prior claims under oath that all responsive documents had been produced. McGrath entered the default order on the second and third counts of Lewis-Bystrzycki’s suit, which allege gender discrimination and hostile work environment in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act and retaliation in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Unless McGrath vacates her order — an attorney for the city has filed a motion for reconsideration that will be heard Tuesday — the city would be liable for paying damages to Lewis-Bystrzycki in an amount to be determined by a jury, Country Club Hills attorney Stephen Miller said.

The recently discovered document, a June 11, 2010 memo from the former fire chief, states that Lewis-Bystrzycki is to be promoted to lieutenant following the retirements of two lieutenants. She never received the promotion, however, and has alleged in court filings that gender discrimination and harassment were the reason. Had the 2010 memo been turned over when ordered, the case would likely have already settled, Dana Kurtz, the lawyer for Lewis-Bystrzycki, argued.

Instead, Kurtz said, her client had not been promoted, no longer had a career — she’s been on paid leave from the department since 2015 — and had incurred $1.7 million in attorneys’ fees and expenses as a result of the city’s failure to produce the document.

“It’s just by chance that (plaintiff’s forensic expert Andrew Garrett) found this document last night,” Kurtz told the judge, according to a court transcript. “It should have been produced two years ago. It would have changed the nature and course of this litigation dramatically.”

Garrett testified that his forensic analysis of the Country Club Hills fire department’s computer workstations and email server showed the city never searched them for documents relevant to the lawsuit, as it had been ordered to do. His testimony that the city had not searched its computers for documents relevant to the lawsuit came just months after the judge sanctioned Country Club Hills for destroying digital evidence that its firefighters regularly viewed pornography on department computers, despite having received notice to preserve its computer files.

In rendering her Oct. 2 order granting default judgment, McGrath said that due to the city’s repeated failure to comply with her orders, the extent of relevant documents it had not produced could not be known.

McGrath said that even before the previously untendered memo surfaced, she had planned to order that Country Clubs Hills reimburse Lewis-Bystrzycki for attorney fees and costs incurred to hire her forensic expert and to instruct the jury it could draw an adverse inference from the city’s “unreasonable and willful destruction of ESI data on their computers despite being under an obligation to preserve that information.” But, the judge said, after the discovery of weighty documents that should have been produced that weren’t, she would reconsider her sanctions to include default judgment.

“Here we have a case in which defendant, despite giving — being given many opportunities, has failed to comply with the Court’s rules in two different ways; the first in actually searching the documents in its possession to ensure that all responsive documents are produced to the plaintiff and the second, to ensure that the information in its possession is maintained and not damaged,” McGrath said, according to a court transcript of last week’s proceeding.

“So I am going for the more drastic remedy of default, and I hate to do it, but I am going for the remedy of default in addition to the reimbursement for the fees and the expert fees and costs related to the third and fourth motions to compel.”

If McGrath upholds her prior order, the case would still proceed to trial, but the jury would be tasked only with determining the amount of damages, not the city’s liability.

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Evanston Fire Department news

Excerpts from the

Evanston city officials have proposed cutting nearly 40 jobs — including five police officers and nine firefighters — slashing the public health department budget, closing one recreation center, and closing and selling a fire station in order to deal with a $7.4 million deficit expected in the city’s fiscal year 2019 budget which runs Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.

The discussion comes as Evanston deals with decreasing property tax revenue, increasing employee and pension costs, anticipated bond debt to pay for capital improvements around town, and costs to rebuild the Robert Crown Community Center, among other factors.

The reserve fund, which ideally should have 16.6 percent of the city’s annual operating expenses, ended 2017 at 12.8 percent. As such, $1.5 million of Evanston’s operating budget is marked for contribution to general fund reserve. The city has marked $1 million for debt service to pay for renovations to the Robert Crown Community Center.

City officials say property tax revenue has not recovered since the recession and sales taxes since that time have stayed relatively flat. Meanwhile, building permit revenue has dropped from a 2016 high and is not expected to recover soon.

  • The city proposed eliminating 38.5 jobs. Of those, 21 are vacant and 17.5 are filled. Positions that could be cut include: cultural arts coordinator, legal analyst and liquor licensing manager, facilities maintenance worker, fleet operations coordinator, payroll/pension specialist, junior mechanic, two full-time and one part-time human services advocates, the director and assistant director of public health, communicable disease specialist, one police commander, one court liaison, one police video records specialist, five police officers, nine firefighters, and two public works maintenance workers.
  • Another proposal reorganizes the parks department, which could result in one full-time and three part-time positions being cut.
  • Fire Station 4, in the 2nd Ward, could be closed and put up for sale, with all firefighter positions there eliminated, according to the proposed budget. That could save the city about $1.3 million.
  • In contrast, the city could close the Gibbs-Morrison Center in the 5th Ward, but keep the building and property and lease it out to a new operator. City staff also is proposing eliminating the Storefront Modernization Program, which includes grants to help local businesses update entryways. Cutting that program would save Evanston $75,000.
  • Also on the cutting block is Evanston’s Cultural Arts Administration, which helps support local arts. If cut, it could save the city $175,000. Staff also proposed eliminating the annual World Art and Music Festival, which would save $55,000.
  • Also proposed is reducing Mental Health Board funding by $250,000, or about 34 percent of the 2018 budget.

Some proposals to help generate additional revenue, staff has proposed increasing the residential parking permit rate from $15 to $30, raising parking ticket fees from $20 to $25, charging $70 for block party permits — which now are free, increasing the wheel tax from $75 to $85 and contracting out the city’s crossing guards.

The council is expected to begin discussing the budget at its Oct. 22 meeting and hold a public hearing on Oct. 27.

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37th annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend

Excerpts from the

Thousands of people from across the nation gathered in Emmitsburg this weekend to pay tribute to fallen firefighters.

The 37th annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend was a chance for families, friends and colleagues to grieve and honor their loved ones killed in the line of duty. The names of each of the 80 firefighters killed in 2017, along with the names of 23 firefighters who died in previous years, were added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

Chief Dennis Compton, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation board chairman, welcomed the guests to the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg where the memorial is located. While many firefighters are uncomfortable with being called heroes, he said, the women and men who serve embody all the qualities of a hero — commitment, pride, courage and compassion.

“The men and women we are honoring today are not heroes because they died,” Compton said. “They became heroes to the people in their communities the day they signed up to be a firefighter. And you — their family and friends and co-workers — are also heroes because you supported their willingness to serve.”

During the service, the name of every firefighter was read aloud and a flag, badge, and rose was presented to family members or colleagues. Each of the 103 flags presented had been flown over the U.S. Capitol.

The names of the fallen firefighters will be added to the list of more than 5,000 present at the memorial, which was built in 1981. More than 1 million firefighters are currently serving throughout the United States.