Three years ago, five female paramedics accused their bosses of sexual harassment. They alleged the Chicago Fire Department “directly encourages” the illegal behavior by failing to “discipline, supervise and control” its officers.
Now, Chicago taxpayers will pay the price, to the tune of $1.825 million.
The proposed settlement is on the agenda for a meeting Monday of the City Council’s Finance Committee.
Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford refused to comment on the settlement. Lynn Palac, an attorney representing the five women, said only that the settlement was “a long time coming.”
The 2018 lawsuit filed by the five women claimed there is a “code of silence” in the fire department.
“Municipal policymakers are aware of — and condone and facilitate [the misconduct] — by their inaction, a code of silence in the CFD by which employees fail to report misconduct committed by other male officers,” the lawsuit states.
As a “matter of both policy and practice,” the city “directly encourages and fails to adequately discipline, supervise and control its officers and its failure to do so manifests in deliberate indifference,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit said the pattern of indifference is underscored by the CFD’s failure to “maintain adequate separate bathrooms” and “separate sleeping quarters in all firehouses,” failure to administer sexual harassment training and by its pattern of harassing, threatening and intimidating women who dare to report sexual harassment.
On the day the lawsuit was filed, Palac said the women chose to remain anonymous while identifying their male harassers — three of them naming the same ambulance commander — because they had already endured a pattern of abuse that has threatened their physical and mental well-being.
The woman identified as Jane Doe 1 is a paramedic in charge who has worked for the city since December 2014.
She accused her field chief of telling her in “graphic detail how his wife of 16 years is a grandmother and acts like it. ... He stated that she will not have sex with him or give him b--- jobs anymore.”
According to the woman, her field chief wanted a “no strings relationship” that would allow the two to go on calls together with “no winking, no smiles, no looking at each other.”
When the woman made it clear she was not interested, the field chief sent her harassing and inappropriate text messages and even used his access to a “universal key” to walk into her “private quarters, unannounced and uninvited” without turning on the lights.
When the field chief said, “I see you are laying down,” the woman said she “feared I would be sexually assaulted.”
She also described a series of embarrassing and retaliatory actions by the spurned field chief.
The second woman is a 16-year paramedic. She claims she was dating a firefighter for three months, then chose to end the relationship in February 2014.
The male firefighter responded to the breakup by driving by her house repeatedly and sending “numerous” text messages attempting to reconcile with the woman. The texts included threats of suicide.
The firefighter then “posted a picture of Jane Doe 2 in a bra and underwear on Facebook with a sexual comment about her.” That was followed by a “nasty, degrading email” from the spurned firefighter.
When the woman filed an order of protection against the firefighter, the CFD’s licensed social worker urged her to “forego the legal route” because “something like this could ruin his career” then breached the confidentiality of their private conversations, according to the lawsuit.
The third woman is a paramedic in charge who identified her harasser by name as an ambulance commander.
In April 2014, the woman claims she went into the medic room at St. Joseph’s Hospital to retrieve sheets and supplies for the ambulance. The male ambulance commander was sitting at a computer opposite the supplies when he suddenly “grabbed” her.
“He pulled Jane Doe 3 toward him, grabbed her with two hands and tried to kiss her with an open mouth,” the lawsuit states.
When the woman “told him ‘no’ and tried to get away and back up” the commander “kissed her and licked her face.”
The woman then “put her hands on his chest to push him off of her,” only to be told, “Come on. You know you want it.” The commander then grabbed the woman’s right wrist with his left hand and “placed her hand on his erect penis.” Only after she “twisted it very hard” did he stop and let her go, the lawsuit states.
A few months later, the commander “tried to hug her” and “opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out” to kiss her.
In April of this year, Inspector General Joe Ferguson demanded immediate changes — in policy and training, and also in protecting from retaliation firefighters and paramedics who complain about sexual and racial discrimination.
The audit was accompanied by a survey that showed that 73 of all 285 respondents, both male and female — that’s 26% — reported having experienced sexual harassment “at least once” at CFD.
Even more troubling was the rate of sexual harassment of women. There were 45 female survey respondents, and 28 of them — 62% — reported being sexually harassed at CFD.