ECC officers accuse now-departed police chief of discrimination

Two Elgin Community College police officers are accusing the college's police chief of engaging in sexually explicit gender- and race-based discrimination, and racially charged language and behavior for the past three years, and they say the college president failed to do anything about it.

Deputy Chief Tami Haukedahl and officer William Powell have filed federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints claiming Police Chief Emad Eassa "created a hostile working environment" through "angry outbursts and rants full of demeaning comments toward women, older workers and African Americans."

The complaint, filed Feb. 15, documents what it says are instances of harassment by Eassa since April 25, 2016.

"The atmosphere in the ECC police department is sexually and racially charged, full of demeaning, sexist language directed at women, in addition to a sexist cartoon prominently displayed in Eassa's office for all police staff and visitors to see. Eassa refers to women on the ECC staff, on the ECC faculty, and in the student body in demeaning terms," the complaint reads.

ECC hired a management labor attorney to investigate the allegations against Eassa, and some corrective actions were recommended. Then ECC employees recently were notified of Eassa's retirement; his last day on campus was April 21.

Haukedahl, a retired state police commander, said Thursday that Eassa used profane language toward her since she was hired in 2009.

"Over time, we thought if we just kept him calm and quiet, it would stop," Haukedahl said.

She said she couldn't believe how she had tolerated such behavior for so long. It wasn't until a year ago when a male subordinate questioned how she could reconcile Eassa's disparaging comments with being a woman that she decided to put a stop to it, she said.

"I consider myself a strong woman. I let myself get to the position that I would tolerate someone treating me this way," Haukedahl said. "This really truly affected everybody in the police department because everybody knew what was going on."

ECC President David Sam wrote a letter March 20 about the situation.

"Chief Eassa is 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," Sam wrote. "The college will make arrangements for the ECC Police Department to undergo training that addresses issues of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation."

Sam declined to comment Thursday on the allegations against Eassa and referred all questions to spokeswoman Toya Webb. Webb then released a statement from Sam.

"The College does not generally comment publicly on personnel issues or pending legal action," it read. "The college does note ... the two officers are still in the process of availing themselves of internal processes at the college available to those who feel aggrieved.

"In regard to the now-public allegations, let me be clear: The College takes these matters seriously and does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind," the statement concluded.

Powell, a retired police chief of Aurora, said the college's leadership has "shirked its ethical and moral responsibilities" toward students, the staff and the community.

"It calls into question the leadership's ability to lead this college fairly," Powell said.

After joining ECC's police department as an officer in 2010, Powell 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.

Haukedahl said Eassa threatened to fire her nearly a dozen times. She said she was being paid less than her male counterparts, given extra work and made to work unfavorable shifts. Powell said he also was assigned odd shifts. They believe it was retaliation for being whistleblowers.

They and two other officers filed a complaint with ECC's human resources director Aug. 15, but Eassa's retaliatory conduct continued, they said.

"We had a choice to leave," Haukedahl said. "The atmosphere was very toxic and affected our stress levels. We talked about just walking away. ... We decided that we'd stay and do the right thing."

Peter Katsaros, a Chicago-based trial attorney representing Haukedahl and Powell, said a meeting is scheduled with two college board members next week to bring about some resolution to the matter.

"These are two of the strongest ... cases I have seen in 39 years as a labor lawyer," said Katsaros, adding the threats and retaliation are clear violations of federal and state laws. "We can take our discrimination case to federal court, but the students, faculty and staff still have no protection because the president of this college has done nothing about this discrimination."

  Elgin Community College Deputy Police Chief Tami Haukedahl and Officer William Powell have filed federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints claiming ECC Police Chief Emad Eassa engaged in sexually explicit, gender- and race-based discrimination and used racially charged language the past three years. Brian Hill/
  Elgin Community College Police Officer William Powell has filed a federal discrimination complaint against ECC Police Chief Emad Eassa. Brian Hill/
  ECC Deputy Police Chief Tami Haukedahl says ECC Police Chief Emad Eassa has used disparaging and sexually explicit language toward her and other women at the college for years. Brian Hill/
  "I consider myself a strong woman. I let myself get to the position that I would tolerate someone treating me this way," said ECC Deputy Police Chief Tami Haukedahl about her claim of Police Chief Emad Eassa's behavior toward her. Brian Hill/
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