Employee who accused Kane County chairman of intimidation gets six-figure separation deal

Kane County officials recently closed on a six-figure severance package for an employee who filed a federal complaint claiming Chairman Chris Lauzen engaged in a pattern of “harassment, intimidation and demotion.”

The agreement marks the second documented instance of an employee accusing him of unprofessional behavior.

The situation began to boil in September, according to documents obtained by the Daily Herald.

It was then the county hired an outside attorney to investigate claims of at least three employees alleging inappropriate conduct by Don Biggs, Lauzen's hand-picked executive director of building management. In a series of letters between Lauzen and Sheila McCraven, the county's executive director of human resources, Lauzen accuses McCraven of not following his orders and directives from the county board by not appearing at interviews and meetings regarding what Lauzen described as “the so-called investigation” of Biggs.

McCraven did not respond to an interview request and Lauzen directed questions to the state's attorney's office.

“This was a personnel interview and not a public meeting; therefore no notice was appropriate,” Lauzen wrote in a Sept. 14 letter. “You refused to attend the scheduled and board-instructed meeting.”

McCraven, in response, indicates she did not participate in the meetings at the advice of the state's attorney's office. McCraven said it wasn't made clear she needed to attend and the state's attorney's office had concerns the meetings did not fulfill the obligations of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

“I perceived your memo to me to be an attempt to intimidate me,” McCraven replied in a letter the same day. “I will not tolerate it. I am an employee of the Kane County Board and have been so for 24 years. In that time and at all times since 1992, I have conducted myself in a respectful and professional manner. I ask that you do the same.”

Five days later, Lauzen responds in a memo accusing McCraven of failing to schedule and post another meeting regarding an “urgent personnel issue.”

“As you recently reminded me, you have worked here for 24 years, so this task was easily within your experience and capabilities,” Lauzen wrote. “Yet you failed to schedule and post this time-sensitive and important meeting. Please tell me why in writing by the end of the day.”

McCraven responded by filing an employment discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission. In the allegations, McCraven notes she filed a complaint of disability discrimination at some point during her employment.

“Subsequently, I have been subjected to intense work scrutiny, intimidation and different terms and conditions of my employment than my fellow co-workers including, but not limited to, working in a hostile environment,” McCraven wrote.

On Oct. 24, McCraven wrote a letter to State's Attorney Joe McMahon explaining why she filed the EEOC complaint.

“The disclosure of my role in bringing forth the allegations of wrongdoing expressed by three employees in the building management department about Director Biggs has led to a work environment in which Chairman Lauzen is becoming increasingly hostile to me,” McCraven wrote.

She went on to detail a meeting Sept. 19 where Lauzen watched as Biggs “verbally assaulted me for 1½ hours.” She also details Lauzen's accusations about McCraven inviting the IRS to audit the county, resulting in a $283,000 bill in back taxes and fines. McCraven denied the accusation. The IRS determined the county misclassified some employees as subcontractors, a finding first reached during an audit by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.

McCraven also told McMahon that Lauzen disclosed during a staff meeting the confidential EEOC charges to the entire panel of executive directors who report to Lauzen.

“This was totally inappropriate conduct by Chairman Lauzen,” McCraven wrote. “This nonsense must stop now.”

At the same time, Lauzen sent a letter to Pat Kinnally, the attorney assigned to the county board, asking for help dealing with McCraven's EEOC complaint. In the correspondence, Lauzen said he believes McCraven's EEOC complaint originated because, “Sheila has misconstrued simple, important questions from me to her.” Then Lauzen includes a plea for help.

“I have asked three times for ‘labor law specialist' help and been denied three times,” Lauzen wrote. “I will do my best but really should not be on my own. I never imagined that, when I asked attorneys assigned to me for help, that they would deny me assistance and perhaps conclude that I would make better decisions without their help. Are the county and I being intentionally placed in danger?”

Two days later, McMahon sent a letter to county board members informing them he would appoint an outside attorney to represent the county.

EEOC complaints are not public documents unless or until charges result. County officials familiar with what happened next said three things became clear: The investigation into Biggs' conduct fell apart but was resolved by reassigning some of the employees involved; McCraven's EEOC complaint probably didn't have enough support to move forward; and the relationship between McCraven and Lauzen was irreparable. Work began on a separation agreement.

County board officials signed off on the deal earlier this month. Part of the agreement, which includes a year's salary of $136,737, requires McCraven and the county to not make any statements to the public, media or prospective employers that “may tend to disparage, reflect negatively, or be critical of each other.”

McCraven's departure marks the second documented incident of an employee leaving their job at the county after a falling out with Lauzen. In February 2014, Cheryl Maraffio resigned as Lauzen's hand-picked community outreach coordinator, citing “an obvious, significant lack of professional courtesy and respect for me, my work, and my commitment to Kane County” in a letter to the county board.

Kane County's separation deal with McCraven

Details of the separation agreement between Kane County and Sheila McCraven, former executive director of human resources, include:

• McCraven resigns effective July 1, 2017 (The county has already hired a new human resources director.)

• The county will pay McCraven $136,737 (One year of wages)

• The county will pay McCraven's health insurance to Dec. 31, 2017

• The county will pay for a job placement package including six months worth of the executive support program offered by Challenger, Gray & Christmas beginning July 5, 2017

• The county will not contest any application for unemployment insurance benefits

• McCraven retains all vesting in her IMRF pension, including unused, extended sick days

• The county will write McCraven a letter of reference acknowledging her performance was satisfactory

• McCraven releases the county from all claims, including her EEOC complaint, and agrees to hold the county harmless

• The county denies any liability and violation of any laws or any other wrongdoing of any type

SOURCE: Separation and Release Agreement of April 24.

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