Faced with an $800,000 expenditure to settle a lawsuit that a sheriff's deputy brought against DuPage County after being passed over for a promotion, some county board members are wondering if part of the money should come from Sheriff John Zaruba's budget.
The proposed settlement would end DuPage's legal battle with Susan Lakics, a veteran sheriff's employee who sued in 2009 alleging Zaruba passed her over for a promotion because of sexual discrimination and because he had a political beef with her husband, a former mayor of West Chicago.
A federal jury earlier this year rejected the discrimination claim but agreed that politics were behind Lakics' stagnating career. It returned a $1 million verdict for the deputy.
At the time, Lakics' attorney, John C. Kreamer, estimated the verdict actually could end up costing the county closer to $1.5 million. That's because the $1 million judgment didn't include plaintiff attorney fees or wages Lakics would have received had she been promoted five years ago.
Initially, the county planned to appeal. But a settlement was reached in the case earlier this month, according to court records.
Once the judge in the case formally signs off on the deal, the county is expected to pay $800,000 to Lakics from its legal contingency fund.
However, county board member Gary Grasso on Tuesday suggested the board consider taking part of the money from the sheriff department's proposed budget for the 2014 fiscal year. Zaruba has requested a spending plan totaling roughly $40.3 million.
"Because of the nature of that lawsuit and the amount of money involved, I think we should just look at some ways to have some of that come out of the sheriff's budget," Grasso said.
Board member Robert Larsen said some members agree with Grasso because they're disappointed the county lost the suit. They're also upset with what they perceive to be "a lack of communication" from Zaruba about his department's spending, he said.
"That's been a source of friction for a while," Larsen said.
Still, Larsen said he believes withholding money from the sheriff's budget could create legal problems.
"I don't think we can do it," said Larsen, who is an attorney. "We always have an obligation to look at the sheriff's budget. But we can't punish him by taking money away from his budget."
Grasso, who also is an attorney, says he's not seeking to punish Zaruba. Still, he said, the sheriff's office should share in the cost of the settlement.
"It had to do with the manner in which he (Zaruba) was running the office," Grasso said. "It wasn't a car accident."
Zaruba's office didn't respond to requests for comment.
DuPage State's Attorney Bob Berlin, whose office represents the county in civil litigation, declined to comment because a judge has not formally signed off on the settlement, spokesman Paul Darrah said.