Mount Prospect agrees to $350K settlement with firefighter who alleged hostile work culture

Mount Prospect has agreed to a $350,000 out-of-court settlement with a fire department lieutenant who sued the village last year, claiming he faced retaliation after complaining of a hostile and sexually offensive work culture.

The village board on Tuesday approved the settlement with Lt. Steven Edwards.

According a statement from the village, Edwards will receive $350,000 and forgiveness of a $1,616 payroll advance.

Fire Chief John Dolan also will send an email to fire department staff members wishing Edwards well in his retirement, effective March 31 after 25 years of service.

The village will pay $125,616 of the settlement, with the rest picked up by its insurance carrier, the Intergovernmental Risk Management Agency.

"The village and IRMA carefully weighed the financial and operational risks of a protracted legal battle in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and determined a settlement as structured was in the best business interests of the village of Mount Prospect," Village Manager Michael Cassady said in the village's statement.

The agreement comes after a 10-hour mediation session March 1 in Chicago, led by retired federal Judge Sidney Schenkier. The village's special legal counsel, IRMA representatives, village staff members and Edwards and his attorneys participated.

Filed in August 2022, the suit claimed members of the department engaged in graphic sexual conversations and viewed pornography in the workplace. Along with the village, the named defendants include Dolan, former Chief Brian Lambel, Batallion Chief Aaron Grandgeorge and Heidi Neu, the village's human resources director.

Edwards joined the fire department in 1997 and over his 24 years received stellar evaluations, including one characterizing his leadership as "shaping the future of the department," the suit stated.

Over time, the suit alleged, Edwards became increasingly aware of "blatant sexism" in the department, which as of 2020 had 72 sworn firefighters, all of them men. The suit claimed the behavior included ranking female staff members on their potential as sexual partners, discussing sex acts and making derogatory comments about female patients.

According to the suit, Edwards brought his complaints to Lambel and the village's human resources department in January 2020. A later investigation found misconduct by a battalion chief, who was suspended as a result, according to the lawsuit.

A week after he complained, the suit states, Edwards received the first negative performance evaluation of his career from Grandgeorge. Over the following two years, the suit alleged, Edwards was passed over for promotion to battalion chief, stripped of his training duties, removed from his preferred shift and station, and isolated within the department.

In 2021, the suit states, he was suspended for one day after hitting a station garage with a truck. Others had done so as well but did not receive the same punishment, the suit alleged.

And as recently as Aug. 2, the suit states, the village threatened to fire Edwards as part of an investigation into his use of sick days. The threat, according to the suit, came shortly after state and federal authorities granted him the right to sue the village.

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