A federal judge won’t dismiss lawsuits from two female Chicago Police officers who claimed the department discriminated against women when handing out promotions and special assignments.
Allison Schloss and Maureen Bresnahan independently sued the city and several Chicago Police Department officials alleging violations of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as well as the Equal Protection Act and Illinois Civil Rights Act, in a “pattern and practice of sex discrimination against women applying for promotion to and employed in prestigious units within the CPD.”
Though the woman chiefly named different individual defendants, and though those defendants filed their own motions to dismiss, the women filed a consolidated response to the dismissal motions. In an opinion issued Oct. 4, Judge Thomas Durkin said, “many of the facts and issues overlap” and addressed all the motions inclusively.
Schloss is a CPD lieutenant who joined the force in 1990, and in May 2014 accepted a promotion to become the first female commanding officer of the Special Functions Division’s marine and helicopter units. She accused Steve Georgas, the SFD’s deputy chief, of systemic and direct gender discrimination, including being the only officer disciplined as a result of a May 2016 drowning. She said she lost her command as a result of that incident and was transferred to the Major Accident Investigation Unit, and accused Georgas and four other supervisors of filing false sexual harassment complaints against her.
Bresnahan is a detective who applied to become an explosives technician on the bomb squad in February 2015. She said although she got the same top score on a mechanical and electrical aptitude test as two male candidates, and alleging she had superior work experience, she was passed over and described as “best suited for clerical, office” work.
In arguing for dismissal, the defendants said the officers’ complaints don’t establish widespread department practices. However, Durkin wrote, that position overlooks the allegation of “statistical analyses showing a poor showing of female representation in Special Functions Units (SFU) and allegations of hostility towards women in the Special Functions Division that are so pervasive that they establish an intent to discriminate.”
Durkin further noted how both complaints allege women are historically and currently excluded from line and command SFU positions and offer “a series of factual allegations related directly to CPD’s alleged custom, pattern and practice of sex discrimination in the Special Functions Division.”
With respect to Schloss’ allegation of the false sexual harassment complaints, the defendants argued they could not be accused of a conspiracy because they all share an employer. Durkin explained the two recognized exceptions to that defense: when employees are shown to be motivated solely by personal bias or when the allegations are part of a broader discriminatory pattern.
“The second exception applies here — at least on the pleadings — as the complaint alleges a widespread pattern of discrimination in the Special Functions Division, as discussed above,” Durkin wrote, adding the defendants misunderstood Schloss’ allegations, explaining her position that the harassment allegation was a pretext to guard against the gender discrimination accusation.
Durkin further explained how Schloss plausibly alleged the Illinois Whistleblower Act violation — because he could easily infer Georgas knew of her internal complaint when he removed her from her command — and also said Bresnahan’s complaint is not duplicative because her different claims seek different relief, as Title VII damages are capped at $300,000 while Illinois Civil Rights Act claims have no such limitation.
The female officers are represented in the action by attorneys Marni Willenson and Samantha Kronk, of Willenson Law LLC, of Chicago.