Posts Tagged Fire Chief Joseph Ellington

Sexual harassment lawsuit against Country Club Hills (more)

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Three years ago, a female firefighter filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment in Country Club Hills, including firefighters watching porn. Next week, that lawsuit goes to trial at the Daley Center.

Dena Lewis has been a Country Club Hills firefighter since 1998, but she’s been on paid leave for the past three years after filing a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the village. She says she was passed over for a promotion after she complained about firefighters watching porn in the firehouse, which she says was epidemic.

Initially, the Country Club Hills Fire Department denied it was even happening. But when Lewis’ lawyer deposed firefighters under oath, they told the truth.

The village has been sanctioned by the court for destroying evidence before Lewis’ legal team could look at the computers.

“They ran what’s called disc cleanup, disc wipe to try to wipe out the internet history and the evidence,” said attorney Dana Kurtz.

Records show three firefighters were suspended last fall for watching porn at the firehouse. But Lewis’ lawyer says the village refuses to confirm whether any disciplinary action was ever taken.


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Sexual harassment lawsuit against Country Club Hills (more)

Excerpts from the

Thousands of web searches for pornography were found on four Country Club Hills Fire Department computers, according to testimony from a forensic expert.

Andrew Garrett — who performed the imaging Jan. 26 on behalf of Dena Lewis-Bystrzycki, a female firefighter involved in a lawsuit against Country Club Hills — testified last month to the presence of porn on the devices.

“There’s thousands of web searches for pornography. It’s all over the board,” Garrett testified Feb. 8, according to court transcripts. “It appears that they’ve wiped the hard drives, reloaded them, and I gave [Dana Kurtz, Lewis-Bystrzycki’s lawyer] three dates in which that was completely done.

“The problem was, once the computers were hooked back up, the servers pushed down profiles that had information of the previous web history and the searching of pornography.”

Lewis-Bystrzycki, a member of the department since 1998, alleges firefighters sexually harassed her and treated her in a hostile manner, engaged in gender discrimination when she came up for a promotion, retaliated against her for reporting misbehavior and regularly watched pornography at the station.

On Aug. 31, 2016, after concluding that a search of the department’s computers did not amount to a fishing expedition, a judge granted a motion ordering a forensic examination of the computers.

The examination occurred nearly five months after it was granted, and only after Judge Lynn Egan sanctioned the city for its failure to comply with the court-ordered computer imaging. Country Club Hills was ordered to reimburse the forensic expert for time and expenses related to the imaging as part of the sanctions.

After news of the sanctions was reported last month by a watchdog website but before results of the imaging were shared in court, the city’s lawyers filed an emergency motion for a protective order to stem the flow of information to the media.

They argue the gag order is necessary to prevent “irreparable, serious and imminent threats to Defendants’ rights to a fair trial,” according to court filings.

“It is expected — based on past pattern and practices — that plaintiff — through her counsel — will attempt to unjustly and purposefully influence the potential jury pool, so Defendants will be irreparably harmed by not getting a fair trial on the relevant, material and ultimately admissible evidence,” the city argued in its motion, citing a 2015 FOX 32 report about the lawsuit and the recent watchdog blog article.

Country Club Hills and its lawyers did not return requests for comment on the city’s recent motion for a gag order or on allegations made in Kurtz’s response that the city had destroyed evidence and was in contempt of a court order, and that firefighters regularly watched porn.

The city also asked the judge to allow it to screen any irrelevant or immaterial data found on the fire department’s computers, before they were passed along to Kurtz and Lewis-Bystryzycki, for fear it could be used as part of a smear campaign against the department.

Kurtz shot back with a response to the city’s motion, arguing that its allegations had no basis in fact and that the request for a gag order should be denied outright.

She had not been leaking information about the case to the news, Kurtz wrote, but rather the media had simply been reporting on publicly available court documents.

Her response to the gag order motion states that rather than focusing on the censure she received from a judge last year in an unrelated case, the city should really focus on their own conduct (or misconduct) in this case.

“Which,” her response continues, “has led to a default judgment being entered against them, them having to pay Plaintiffs’ attorneys fees for not answering the complaint in a timely manner and not responding, no less than 4 motions to compel and sanctions having to be filed by Plaintiff in this case, and almost all of them being granted.”

Kurtz also accused Country Club Hills of having “deliberately engaged in tactics to destroy evidence and commit spoliation.”

Despite the potential implications of Kurtz’s allegations, experienced Chicago trial lawyer Dan Kirschner said he thought it unlikely the case would be investigated by authorities.

His remedy in such situations, said Kirschner, a partner at Corboy & Demetrio who represents personal injury, wrongful death and medical malpractice complainants, is to bring it to the court’s attention and ask for a sanction, which could come in many forms, including jury instruction, striking any pleadings related to the issue or entering a default judgment.

Kurtz indicated in her Feb.15 response to Country Club Hills’ motion for a protective order that that would be the direction she would go. In it, she wrote that she intends to file motions of spoliation and contempt once Garrett finalizes his report on the computer imaging and releases it to her.

A hearing on the protective order requested by the city is scheduled for late next month.

thanks Dan

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Sexual harassment lawsuit against Country Club Hills (more)

Excerpts from

Country Club Hills has suspended a firefighter who complained about gender discrimination, sexual harassment and porn in the fire station, according to the woman’s attorney.

Dana Kurtz, Lewis-Bystrzycki’s attorney, said the suspension is “simply more retaliation against her. It sends a clear message to everyone ‘do not complain or this is what will happen to you.'”

Earlier this month, Lewis-Bystrzycki filed a supplemental complaint against Country Club Hills alleging lieutenants have admitted knowing that employees watch porn in the fire station. Court records allege at least 45 instances of sexual harassment, discrimination or retaliation against Lewis-Bystrzycki dating back to the beginning of her employment.

Country Club Hills attorney Daniel Boddicker declined to comment, citing pending litigation, but said he believes the department will be successful on the merits of the case. Boddicker previously said the fire chief has “terminated access to the premium movie channels” where there is “nudity.”

thanks Dan

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Sexual harassment lawsuit against Country Club Hills

Excerpts from the

On Dena Lewis-Bystrzycki’s first day as a Country Club Hills firefighter, the chief at the time allegedly leaned over to her and whispered a crude sexual invitation.

Some co-workers laughed. Lewis-Bystrzycki looked at one of them and asked, essentially, “Is this what I am to expect?”

“Welcome to the fire service,” the engineer allegedly responded, according to recently filed court records that detail the exchange.

Nearly two decades later, Lewis-Bystrzycki has filed a lawsuit alleging firefighters regularly watch pornography at the station, engaged in gender discrimination when she came up for a promotion and retaliated against her for reporting misbehavior.

There are only two full-time female firefighters in the department, according to the suit. Lewis-Bystrzycki, 40, is one of them. She said firefighting is in her blood as she’s following in the footsteps of several uncles, her father and grandfather.

“I was raised in a firehouse,” Lewis-Bystrzycki said in an interview.

Lewis-Bystrzycki has been a firefighter with Country Club Hills since 1998. She first sued the department in 2012, and on Wednesday she filed a supplemental complaint alleging lieutenants have admitted knowing that employees watch porn in the stations.

The lawsuit also alleges that many questions on the 2011 lieutenant promotion exam were written by the father of Carl Pycz, the male firefighter who got the job after scoring highest on the written exam.

Lewis-Bystrzycki complained at the time but was ignored, the lawsuit alleges. At one point, court records allege, Carl Pycz confronted Lewis-Bystrzycki with “a big smile and said, ‘Let the best man win.'”

Since Pycz’s promotion, the lawsuit alleges, he has retaliated against Lewis-Bystrzycki by excluding her from station meals, assigning her menial tasks and unfairly disciplining her.

Country Club Hills referred questions to its attorney, Daniel Boddicker, who said the fire chief has “terminated access to the premium movie channels” where there is nudity. He said the department is investigating the pornography allegations further.

Boddicker declined to comment on anything else but said the fire department expects to win the lawsuit.

Lewis-Bystrzycki’s attorney, Dana Kurtz, said this is one of the more egregious cases she’s seen.

“You have people in command that are doing nothing,” Kurtz said.

Court records filed earlier this month detail at least 45 instances of sexual harassment, discrimination or retaliation against Lewis-Bystrzycki dating back to the beginning of her employment. The alleged misbehavior spans nearly two decades.

In 1998, after Lewis-Bystrzycki started, a firefighter threw a ring used for sexual purposes at her.

One firefighter broke down the bathroom door in 1999 while Lewis-Bystrzycki was showering, according to the complaint.

There were a handful of incidents in 2009 where a male firefighter, and on one occasion two firefighters, climbed into Lewis-Bystrzycki’s bunk and said “cuddle with me” or something similar, court records allege.

In 2012, someone placed a sticker on Lewis-Bystrzycki’s locker with a sexual connotation, court records allege.

That same year, court records allege, Lewis-Bystrzycki came back to her locker and found a ceramic doll on top of it with its hands placed over its mouth. That indicated she should shut her mouth, court records allege.

In 2013, court records allege, Lewis-Bystrzycki was told by another firefighter that there was “an unwritten order given not to assist (Lewis-Bystrzycki) with anything.”

That incident, in particular, disturbs Lewis-Bystrzycki, she said. Fighting the case has left her “nerve-wracked, overwhelmed and scared.”

thanks Dan

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