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updated: 9/14/2017 11:43 AM

ECC cops file federal lawsuit against college

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  • Elgin Community College Deputy Police Chief Tami Haukedahl and Officer William Powell speak at a February news conference.

    Elgin Community College Deputy Police Chief Tami Haukedahl and Officer William Powell speak at a February news conference.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Emad Eassa

    Emad Eassa

 
 

Two Elgin Community College police officers this week filed a federal lawsuit against the college claiming gender, age and racial discrimination.

The complaint filed Tuesday stems from earlier accusations that ECC's former police chief engaged in sexually explicit gender- and race-based discrimination and racially charged language and behavior for three years.

In February, ECC Deputy Chief Tami Haukedahl and Officer William Powell filed federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints claiming Emad Eassa, then the college's police chief, "created a hostile working environment" through "angry outbursts and rants full of demeaning comments toward women, older workers and African Americans." Those complaints document alleged instances of harassment by Eassa since April 25, 2016, and cite the college president's failure to do anything about them.

Haukedahl and Powell are demanding a jury trial on the charges.

In a statement released Thursday, ECC President David Sam said officials don't ordinarily comment on matters of litigation.

"The employees in question have elected to pursue their claims in court, as is their right. While we respect their right to do so, the college also respectfully disagrees with the claims raised in the recently filed lawsuit," Sam said. "Despite the college's position, I want to stress that, like all college employees, the employees in question remain fully protected by the college's policy that prohibits discrimination, harassment and retaliation of any kind."

According to the federal complaint, Eassa displayed a sexist cartoon in his office that was visible to other employees and visitors. He referred to female employees and students in "demeaning terms, including boasting how many ECC female employees working in positions of authority were sexually attracted" to him.

ECC hired a management labor attorney to investigate the allegations against Eassa, and some corrective actions were recommended.

In a March 20 letter, Sam wrote that Eassa was "being directed to refrain (from) any further use of profanity, display of sexually inappropriate pictures, or other conduct inconsistent with the college's policy against discrimination, harassment and retaliation. The college will make arrangements for the ECC Police Department to undergo training that addresses issues of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation."

Eassa retired and left ECC April 21.

Haukedahl, a retired state police commander, said Eassa used profane language toward her since she was hired in 2009. She said Eassa threatened to fire her nearly a dozen times and that she was paid less than her male counterparts, given extra work and made to work unfavorable shifts.

Powell, a retired police chief of Aurora who joined ECC's police department as an officer in 2010, said he applied for an open deputy chief position in 2016. He said Eassa explicitly refused to interview black applicants and said he is paid less than an officer with less seniority. Powell said he was also assigned odd shifts.

Haukedahl and Powell believe being assigned odd shifts was retaliation for being whistleblowers, according to the complaint.

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