The Cook County Board of Commissioners on Thursday approved a $14 million settlement of a lawsuit filed by female jail workers and assistant public defenders who contended a pattern of sexual misconduct along with physical and verbal abuse by inmates created a hostile work environment at the Illinois facility.
The lawsuit filed in 2017 alleged Cook County Jail authorities and the public defender’s office did not do enough to stop male detainees from exposing themselves, masturbating and threatening attorneys in courtroom lockups and the jail.
The lawsuit contended attempts by Sheriff Tom Dart and Public Defender Amy Campanelli to curb the misconduct were either ineffective or short-lived. It claimed that at one point the sheriff rewarded detainees with a pizza for going 30 days without exposing themselves or masturbating. Both Dart and Campanelli have denied the allegations, saying in court filings they took appropriate steps to curtail inmates from exposing themselves.
A federal judge in August 2019 gave the lawsuit class action status.
The lawsuit claimed assistant public defenders were easy targets of misbehaving detainees because they confer with their indigent clients while they’re being held in crowded lockups behind courtrooms in Chicago and its suburbs.
During conferences, other detainees routinely exposed themselves or masturbated, often while making verbal threats in front of female attorneys, the lawsuit alleged.
The lawsuit alleged the problem is so pervasive one of the female assistant public defenders who brought the lawsuit expressed the belief “most if not all” of the estimated 200 women who work as attorneys or interns in the office had experienced such abuse.
An assistant public defender pressed criminal charges against a detainee who masturbated in her presence and who later appeared in a lockup with her on several occasions, according to the lawsuit.
“On each such occasion the detainee yelled profanities and threats,” the lawsuit said, adding detainees have grabbed female assistant public defenders and law clerks by the legs or buttocks.