Attorney General: St. Clair County must name workers who got $665K settlement

News-DemocratMay 13, 2014 

St. Clair County Clerk Bob Delaney in a BND file photo taken the day he announced his resignation.

TIM VIZER — tvizer@bnd.com

St. Clair County officials should have released the names of employees who received a $665,000 settlement for alleged misconduct by former St. Clair County Clerk Bob Delaney, according to the state's Attorney General's Office.

The settlements stem from allegations Delaney mistreated employees through sexual harassment, racial discrimination and other misconduct. The agreements, with names redacted, were made public Monday after the Illinois Attorney General's Office directed the county to do so. The News-Democrat requested the intervention of the Attorney General's Office when county officials refused to release the agreements, which were finalized in December.

State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said Attorney General Lisa Madigan's opinion states the decision can be reviewed by a circuit court and the Freedom of Information Act mandates the release of settlements, but subject to appropriate redactions.

"The issue is what is an appropriate redaction," Kelly said. "This is not a settlement about (workers' compensation) or an accident. These are sensitive issues. Should we potentially discourage women from coming forward with embarrassing information? Should we potentially discourage them from having their grievances fairly addressed?"

All five of the women were employees in the County Clerk's Office during Delaney's tenure. Delaney resigned his post in June 2013.

Sarah Pratt, the state's public access counselor with the Attorney General's Office, said the binding opinion specifically states the names are not exempt from disclosure.

"We find it is not an invasion of privacy to have the names disclosed, and even if we would find it is an invasion of privacy, public interest in the information would outweigh that," Pratt said. "It's pretty clear."

The county must release the names or appeal the Attorney General's ruling, Pratt said.

Kelly said the county has not decided whether to file an appeal.

"The public has a right to know how public money is used, but I'm not sure anyone has a right to put these women through hell again," Kelly said. "We have to decide if we'll appeal, but there is a real question of privacy and the (Attorney General's) own words leave that open to further consideration. Can we give the public what they are entitled to and still respect victims of sexual discrimination? I hope so."

Delaney could not be reached for comment Tuesday by phone or at his home in Collinsville. He previously denied the allegations against him.

The settlements, paid through the county's self-insurance program, ensure the employees would drop potential legal action against the county and Delaney. Criminal charges or civil lawsuits were never pressed against Delaney, though, the five women files charges of discrimination against Delaney with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

While the county did not release the names, the Illinois Department of Human Rights confirmed the names of those in the settlements on Tuesday. The employees -- Laura Romero, Tina Baum, Joan Acker, Margaret Eros and Christine Newman -- could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Romero no longer works for the county.

The allegations include violating the employees civil rights along with assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Romero received $200,000, Baum received $150,000, Acker received $135,000, and Eros and Newman received $90,000 a piece. The settlements are taxable, except for amounts designated for attorney fees.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said no other legal action is pending against the county related to Delaney's alleged misconduct and lawyers recommended to accept the settlements because "it was the most economically viable decision."

The county's Equal Employment Opportunity Officer Laura Beasley, an attorney, interviewed 18 employees and found Delaney violated federal guidelines for employment. For example, 13 female employees claimed Delaney kissed them and 11 female workers claimed inappropriate hugging and touching their hips.

Another seven claimed Delaney grabbed their buttocks, six claimed Delaney used racial slurs, five said they were paid less because of their race or gender, and others claimed Delaney drank alcohol at work and used racial slurs.

Current County Clerk Tom Holbrook said he has been advised to refer questions to Kelly.

"As to my current office, I treat everybody fair and equally and that's the way it's been and that's the way it will continue to be," Holbrook said.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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