DuPage County Board upset with settlement of lawsuit
By Hank Beckman For The Sun February 12, 2013 5:08PM
Updated: March 16, 2013 6:12AM
DuPage County Board members are not happy that a jury awarded a former DuPage Sheriff’s Department employee a $1 million settlement in a discrimination lawsuit in federal court this week.
“I knew nothing about this suit,” County Board member Jim Zay (6th District) said at the close of the County Board’s meeting Tuesday.
The suit was filed in 2009 and alleged that Sheriff John Zaruba passed over Deputy Susan Lakics for promotion for political reasons, including that he had a dispute with her husband, Steven Lakics, former mayor of West Chicago, and that she didn’t support Zaruba politically.
When Zay pointed out that the county was liable for any judgement and asked that something be done about the failure to communicate to the board about the suit, County Board Chairman Dan Cronin promised to address the matter.
County Board member Tony Michelassi (5th District) was also unhappy.
“It’s unfortunate that we got blindsided by this,” he said, noting that the board was “routinely updated on lawsuits” against the county. “We should have known about it.”
After coming out of executive session, Cronin would only say that the board was advised on options available, including the possibility of an appeal. But he was still angry about the development.
“This was shocking to all of us,” he said.
Cronin pointed out that Zaruba was an official elected separately from the County Board, “who needs to be held accountable for his actions,” and stressed that the situation, “doesn’t reflect on the way we do business here.”
“We just get to pay for it,” he said.
Lakics’ attorney, John Kreamer, acknowledged the possibility of an appeal by the county, but was confident in his client’s case.
“We think that we had a strong case and the jury thought we had a strong case,” he said.
Kreamer said that if his client prevailed again on appeal, the county might be out considerably more than $1 million. The settlement awarded Monday was only for compensatory damages.
A future hearing will decide on awarding Lakics’ back pay for the time she would have served in a higher-paying position. Moreover, a judge may mandate that the county pay for Lakics’ legal fees.
“The more likely figure is $1.5 million or higher,” Kreamer said.
DuPage State’s Attorney spokesman Paul Darrah explained what seemed to board members a communications glitch by citing DuPage State’s Attorney policy.
“We don’t comment on any pending litigation,” he said.