Nearly two dozen sheriff's employees emerged victorious from a political discrimination lawsuit against their boss.
The suit alleged that 21 deputies were punished because they didn't support Sheriff Tom Dart's 2006 primary election bid.
Nearly two dozen deputies say they were demoted from their special unit, lost overtime, denied promotions, unfairly disciplined and harassed on the job. The lawsuit claims they were replaced by a less qualified unit and alleges the defendants have chosen politics over safety.
A jury found in favor of the plaintiffs. The amount of their award is still to be determined.
During the 2006 campaign, the deputies supported their boss, Richard Remus, in his campaign against Dart. Remus at the time was the deputies' boss, as the chief of the new-defunct Special Operations Response Team.
The plaintiffs claim that unit was disbanded solely for political reasons just two weeks after Dart won the election.
They also claim the brother of then-sheriff Mike Sheahan, James "Skinny" Sheahan, said the deputies would face consequences for not supporting Dart. They said those consequences have also included the loss of overtime hours and frequently changing work hours.
Shakman Decrees prohibit politically-motivated firings, demotions, transfers, or other punishment of government employees.
Following the victory, the sheriff's office sent the following release:
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office continues to stand on its record and decisions regarding this case. This includes the previous administrations decision to disband the Special Operations Response Team (SORT) and this administration’s decision to fight this case. This was simply good, smart government.
All the plaintiffs involved in this case were previously assigned to the disbanded SORT that, according to many media reports and independent organizations, was the source of repeated incidents and lawsuits at the Cook County Jail. Since taking office in 2006, Sheriff Dart has made countless changes to improve the integrity of our operations and processes - changes that have been supported and validated by numerous outside agencies, including the John Howard Association and the U.S. Department of Justice.
In this lawsuit the 21 plaintiffs, who were part of the more than 50 individuals assigned to SORT, claimed political retaliation. There is not one shred of evidence that supports the claim, not one of these plaintiffs has been fired and all continue to work for the Cook County Department of Corrections. This case has never been about retaliation for violating someone’s rights; this decision has always been about holding employees accountable for their actions and doing what is right. And that is why we feel very confident in appealing this decision.