Ill. judge reverses ruling on firefighter's discrimination lawsuit
A judge who recently granted default judgment in favor of a female Country Club Hills firefighter who sued the city will now let a jury determine liability
By Zak Koeske
The Daily Southtown
COUNTRY CLUB HILLS, Ill. — A Circuit Court judge who recently granted default judgment in favor of a female Country Club Hills firefighter who sued the city over gender discrimination and sexual harassment has reconsidered the severity of her sanctions.
Judge Brigid Mary McGrath, who defaulted the case Oct. 2 over the city’s repeated failure to comply with court orders, reversed course Wednesday after reviewing arguments made by the city’s attorneys. As a result, she granted the city’s motion for reconsideration, meaning that a jury will now determine liability, not just damages, in the case.
McGrath said she changed her mind after concluding that the city’s failure to turn over a 2010 fire department memo — which a forensic expert for firefighter Dena Lewis-Bystrzycki discovered on the eve of trial — did not represent a direct violation of a prior court order, as she originally had thought.
The recently discovered memo from the city’s former fire chief states that Lewis-Bystrzycki was to be promoted to lieutenant following two retirements within the department. She never received the promotion, however, and has alleged in court filings that gender discrimination was the reason.
McGrath said that while Country Club Hills had been obligated to search and tender all relevant documents as part of the discovery process, she accepted the city’s explanation that its failure to search its computers was not deliberate but rather the result of the parties never having reached an agreement on an appropriate set of search terms.
McGrath also said the fact that the defendant’s forensic expert was not present when the “weighty” document was brought to the court’s attention had put the city at a “significant disadvantage.”
While McGrath rescinded her most “drastic” sanction — default judgment — she said she would still instruct the jury it could draw adverse inferences from the city’s destruction of digital evidence and its failure to adequately search documents on its computers.
She previously ordered Country Club Hills to reimburse Lewis-Bystrzycki for attorney fees and costs incurred to hire her forensic expert.
The case, which dates back to 2012, is scheduled to proceed to trial Thursday.
Lewis-Bystrzycki — who was placed on paid leave by the department in 2015 — has alleged that firefighters sexually harassed her and treated her in a hostile manner; engaged in gender discrimination when she came up for a promotion; retaliated against her for reporting misbehavior; and regularly watched pornography at the station.
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