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Cook County commissioners approve $14 million settlement in lawsuit alleging indecent behavior by inmates to public defenders, hostile work environment

Thursday, November 19, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Gregory Pratt

Cook County commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved a $14 million payment to settle a lawsuit alleging that a pattern of “masturbation attacks” orchestrated by Cook County Jail inmates against female jail workers and public defenders created a hostile work environment that bosses failed to address.

The lawsuit, initially filed in 2017 on behalf of female Cook County assistant public defenders, alleged that authorities did not do enough to stop male detainees from exposing themselves, masturbating and threatening the attorneys in courtroom lockups and the county jail.

The female attorneys’ lawsuit against their boss, Public Defender Amy Campanelli, as well as Sheriff Tom Dart alleged that their inaction has resulted in the sexual harassment only worsening.

The lawsuit alleged that the problem is so pervasive that one of the female assistant public defenders who brought the suit said she believed “most if not all” of the estimated 200 women who work as attorneys or interns in the office had experienced the abuse.

The women must endure “a toxic work environment” that forces them to witness “heinous sexual misconduct, robbing many of their love of the job,” said the lawsuit, filed in federal court. Some transferred to less desirable assignments — despite the negative impact on their careers — or quit entirely, the suit said.

Attempts by Dart and Campanelli to curb the misconduct were either ineffective or short-lived, according to the suit, which claimed that at one point the sheriff rewarded detainees with a pizza for going 30 days without exposing themselves or masturbating. The sheriff’s office, however, strongly denied that allegation. A judge’s ruling last year that allowed the lawsuit to go forward as a class action noted the evidence showed the party was unauthorized and neither endorsed nor funded by the sheriff.

 

 



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