Metro-East News

Madison County states' attorney cuts 2 jobs despite unfounded harassment complaints

Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons

Officials determined a second allegation of sexual harassment against an administrator in the Madison County State's Attorney's office is unfounded — but even so, officials have eliminated his position altogether.

To avoid any potential future lawsuits that would cost the county a lot of money, State's Attorney Tom Gibbons said he decided to restructure his administrative staff after the sexual harassment investigation. He eliminated the positions of chief administrator Kevin Hendricks and executive legal secretary Peggy Schaake and created a new administrative role.

"It became apparent to me that we need to make changes in the way we do our administrative management in our office ... and we needed to do it in a way that created a better working environment and protected the rights of everyone working in the office," Gibbons said.

Hendricks had been on leave since August 2017, when a secretary in the felony division filed a sexual harassment complaint against him and filed a retaliation complaint against Schaake.

A seven-month investigation found that there had been no violation of office policy, Gibbons said. Both Hendricks and Schaake resigned from their positions, however, effective Thursday evening.

When the complaints against Hendricks and Schaake first came to light, Gibbons said he contacted legal counsel and followed their instructions.

He put Hendricks on administrative leave to "prevent any possible further problems, if they existed."

"When someone files a complaint, we have to protect them," Gibbons said. "We have to make sure their concerns are being heard and make sure we're looking at it from all sides. But we also have to avoid witch hunts."

Just like many movements for equal rights in America, the path for women to seek recourse from sexual harassment has been through the courts. But grassroots activism in the 1970s opened the space for a nationwide conversation, and the Civil Right

After the investigation wrapped up, Gibbons decided that Hendricks wore too many hats in his job, which was a hybrid of an administrator and an investigator. Hendricks' and Schaake's jobs were eliminated and their duties were delegated out to one new administrative position and to existing staff.

Hendricks resigned from the state's attorneys office, as staying would have meant a substantially reduced salary. The secretary who had filed the sexual harassment complaint took on the new administrative role.

Hendricks was first accused of sexual harassment in 2012 by then-secretary Andrew Kane. Kane filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Madison County Board in April 2012, and the claims were found to be unsubstantiated.

But when taken to the Illinois Department of Human Rights, an investigation found the county didn't properly interview witnesses, and that there was enough evidence of a civil rights violation to move forward with a legal claim. The ruling was based solely on witness testimony, so the allegation against Hendricks had to be resolved in court.

Gibbons disputed all of Kane's allegations, as did Hendricks. The lawsuit Kane filed in federal court, alleging unlawful sex discrimination and retaliation, was still pending as of Friday.

Barry Harris, Madison County director of administrative services, said he spoke to Gibbons, Hendricks and Kane’s supervisor, Schaake, and was determined that the behavior was “playful banter,” according to the IDHR ruling.

Kara Berg: 618-239-2626, @karaberg95