Federal judge OKs female Cook County employees' lawsuits over harassment by inmates

By John Breslin | Jul 10, 2018

A federal judge ruled that various lawsuits claiming officials have failed to curb rampant abuse of female employees visiting Cook County Jail will remain largely intact, according to an opinion filed June 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

CHICAGO - A federal judge ruled that various lawsuits claiming officials have failed to curb rampant abuse of female employees visiting Cook County Jail will remain largely intact, according to an opinion filed June 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The opinion said the suits claim officials, including Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, have failed to protect female public defenders, health workers, correctional officers and others from inmates exposing themselves, masturbating and otherwise harassing them.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly said in the June 26 ruling that three separate, but linked, lawsuits filed against Dart, his office, Public Defender Amy Campanelli and Cook County, can move forward.

The court said the defendants attempted to have the suits dismissed, arguing they have little control over the alleged actions of the inmates, either because they are not directly involved with the jail, or, in Dart's case, because he lacks resources and support.


U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly   fedbarchicago.org

"These suits are related because they arise from the same pervasive and deeply disturbing problem," Kennelly said in his ruling.

The opinion said assistant public defenders, law clerks, court interpreters, correctional officers, court services deputies, deputy sheriffs and health care providers have allegedly been harassed by the inmates.

"The plaintiffs in these cases are women who have been victims - often, repeat victims - of these forms of sexual harassment while attempting to do their jobs," Kennelly wrote in the opinion.

The court said the plaintiffs claim that their employers "have not merely failed to protect them from such harassment, but have actually emboldened the harassers by enacting policies and engaging in practices that have led the harassers to believe that they may act with impunity."

In his case dismissal motion, Dart argued there is no "intentional discrimination," and that he is attempting to solve the problem, although he admits that his efforts have been less than successful because he lacks resources.

Dart also claims Campanelli opposed some of his efforts to prevent harassment, including the handcuffing of detainees in areas where they interact with the female employees.

For her part, Campanelli said in court filings that she has "very little control over the problem," and that it is the responsibility of Dart to maintain control of the jail.

Kennelly denied Dart and Campanelli's motions to dismiss two of the lawsuits and granted in part a "duplicative" claim against Dart and two motions related to equal protection claims.

Plaintiffs in the cases are represented by attorneys Maria De Las Nieves Bolanos and Robin B. Potter, of the firm of Potter Bolanos LLC, of Chicago. 

Dart, Campanelli and other county defendants are defended by attorneys, including Christina M. Egan, Katharine P. Lennox, Peter A. Milianti, Michael R. Phillips and David D. Leishman, of the firm of McGuire Woods LLP, of Chicago; Michael W. Condon, Yordana J. Wysocki  and Michael D. Bersani of the firm of Hervas, Condon & Bersani P.C., of Itasca; and attorneys from the Cook County State's Attorney's office. 

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Organizations in this Story

Cook County Cook County Public Defender Cook County Sheriff Cook County State's Attorney Hervas, Condon & Bersani Pc McGuireWoods LLP Peter A. Milianti U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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