A former Chicago police officer who sued the city for retaliating against her when she reported misconduct involving a co-worker was awarded nearly $2 million by a Cook County jury this week.
Laura Kubiak was a veteran officer in the department’s Office of News Affairs in 2012 when she reported to supervisors that a fellow officer, Veejay Zala, had yelled and threatened her at work.
In retaliation for her complaint, Kubiak was transferred to a midnight shift patrolling in “an unsafe neighborhood,” according to a 2015 lawsuit she filed against the city in Cook County Circuit Court.
The whistleblower suit accused the city of systematically retaliating against employees who report misconduct by fellow police officers, a practice often referred to as the department’s “code of silence.”
On Thursday, the jury voted in favor of Kubiak and awarded her more more than $1.4 million in damages for emotional distress and $400,000 in lost wages, according to court documents.
In a statement, city Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said “We are disappointed in the jury’s verdict and are evaluating our options.”
The trial included testimony by two former police superintendents and members of the media, according to Kubiak’s attorney, Megan O’Malley.
O’Malley said former Supt. Terry Hillard and Block Club co-founder Jen Sabella each praised Kubiak for her work as a department spokeswoman in their testimony.
“[Kubiak] was an asset to the police department,” O’Malley said when reached by phone Friday. “Yesterday was a win for the vast majority of officers. Hopefully it will give good cops the courage to report misconduct they see.”
Neither officer works for the police department anymore — Kubiak retired in 2015 after taking a year of medical leave and Zala retired last year.
At the time Zala was detailed to the Office of News Affairs in 2009, he had been the subject of 31 internal affairs complaints by other officers and the subject of several lawsuits, including a federal lawsuit accusing him of battery and excessive force for which he was later found guilty, according to O’Malley and court records.
Kubiak said Zala regularly lost his temper with her and other co-workers, including on Nov. 8, 2012 when Zala ran up to her and screamed “Who the f——- do you think you are, you stupid B——?” and “You are nothing, you are a stupid b——, you don’t know how to be the police, I am the police, I am the real police,” according to the suit.
Zala allegedly also raised his hand to Kubiak as if threatening to hit her.
Attempts to reach Zala for comment were unsuccessful.
Kubiak reported Zala’s behavior to News Affairs Director Melissa Stratton, who said she didn’t have time to discuss the incident and told Kubiak “don’t embarrass the superintendent,” according to the suit. Another superior, Lt. Maureen Biggane, also told Kubiak she was too busy to meet with her.
In December that year, Kubiak filed an internal affairs complaint, which was later sustained by the department, according to court records. But within two weeks, Kubiak had been reassigned to a patrol shift, despite having medical issues that would prevent her from being able to perform the job, O’Malley said.
O’Malley said that she and Kubiak tried to work with the city “on many occasions” before bringing the suit and said they offered settlements with the city that were “far less” than the damages that were awarded by the jury.
“Look at the amount of tax money that went into fighting this,” O’Malley said. “[The city] had the opportunity to avoid all of this.”
O’Malley hopes the jury’s verdict and award will encourage the city to take protecting officers who report misconduct more seriously.
“They need to cut out the code of silence, because it hurts all the good cops,” O’Malley said. “We hope the verdict will let the city know [they] can’t keep doing this.”