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Dart moves to fire jail guard for family leave misuse

Wednesday, November 08, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by William Lee

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has moved to fire a veteran jail guard, alleging the staffer abused the federal family medical leave law to take personal vacations, hang out in casinos and finish shifts early to go to a second full-time job.

It’s the first of what Dart’s office is promising will be a wider crackdown on such abuse. The goal, his staff said, is to reduce large numbers of jail guards calling off work during during a single shift, which happens on certain holidays. Sheriff’s officials named correctional officer Alexander Perteete in a 13-page complaint before the Cook County Sheriff’s Merit Board, which handles disciplinary cases, after internal investigators found what they allege were 61 instances in which he fraudulently used the Family Medical Leave Act to excuse himself from work at Cook County Jail.

Investigators with the sheriff’s Office of Professional Review allege that on multiple occasions between January 2016 and this past July, Perteete had called off under FMLA — for workers who need time off for serious health or family issues — to take vacations to Miami and Cancun, Mexico, to free up weekends and, at least 11 times, excused himself from his 3 p.m. jail shift to work a second job.

In one instance, investigators found that Perteete had called off for his afternoon Mother’s Day shift in 2016 using FMLA only to post a video of himself on his Facebook page at the Ameristar Casino in East Chicago 20 minutes after his shift was to start. He later posted a comment on his Facebook page about his mother “hitting it big” at the casino on Mother’s Day, according to the sheriff’s office.

The complaint states that in September, Perteete admitted to the casino trip to OPR investigators, as well as admitting he improperly used ordinary medical time and FMLA time for trips to Miami and Cancun. Perteete told investigators that it had been his practice to use the federal time because of stress at work, the complaint stated.

The 1993 federal law requires employers to provide their employees with job-protected absences from work for personal or family illness, or family military leave.

Perteete was immediately suspended without pay pending his termination proceedings before the merit board. A jail guard since November 2004, Perteete was approved for FMLA in September 2015 after submitting documentation from his medical practitioner related to an intermittent medical condition.

In recent months, jail officials have had to institute lockdowns at the Southwest Side jail — one of the nation’s biggest — because a large number of guards called in sick during a single shift. This past Mother’s Day, for example, more than 200 guards called off sick, prompting a jail lockdown and resulting in overtime pay spent on staffing the facility, according to the sheriff’s office.

This past Saturday, 144 of the 389 staff — or 39 percent — assigned to work the 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift called in sick, officials said. About 82 of those officers took time off under FMLA.

The crush of people calling in to say they can’t make it to work makes conditions at the jail less safe for the guards who do show up for their shifts and makes it difficult for Dart’s office to control overtime costs, said Cara Smith, Dart’s policy chief.

“We are very focused on identifying officers who are misusing the Family Medical Leave Act to the detriment of colleagues and taxpayers,” Smith said.

Perteete could not be reached for comment as he did not have a listed telephone number. It was also unclear whether he had a personal attorney. The sheriff’s merit board is responsible for hiring, promoting and firing officers, or suspensions over 30 days.

wlee@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @MidNoirCowboy



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