It is said that the month of March “comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb”. The same could be said of a blazing disciplinary case against one of Oak Lawn’s longtime firefighter/paramedics instituted by the current village administration.
A contentious legal dispute between an Oak Lawn Firefighter/Paramedic and Village Manager Larry Deetjen started with the village issuing a press release alleging conduct that included “phone sex”, “theft of union funds” and “sex acts while on duty” and ended with the Village cutting a six figure check to the employee. The whole debacle may remind many of the proverb about the month of March.
The Oak Lawn Village Board approved a settlement of the year old dispute with Robert Lanz agreeing to resign after 19 years of service as a firefighter/paramedic and the village agreeing to pay Lanz $100,000 and provide a letter signed by Deetjen admitting that Lanz “possessed good operational skills as firefighter and paramedic during the term of his employment” with the Village.
Lanz and the firefighters union had filed 4 grievances or lawsuits against the Village of Oak Lawn and as part of the settlement Lanz has agreed to voluntarily dismiss his matter and not seek any additional compensation for those alleged violations by the village. The Village’s counsel, Ben Gehrt told Trustees that the settlement was a favorable one for the village although the original action by the village had sought termination without any payment claiming that Lanz violated “multiple departmental rules and regulations”.
The payment to Lanz came as a surprise since the original village press release stated, “The village recently became aware of information that suggests that one of its firefighter/paramedics may have violated the village’s policies, including the policy against sexual harassment by engaging in phone sex while on duty on multiple occasions. No employee should ever have to witness or listen to the sex acts of a co-worker while on duty…”
Lanz had denied all the allegations leveled against him by Deetjen. Both Lanz and the Firefighters Union had denied that any conduct by Lanz could be considered “sexual harrassment”.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines Sexual Harassment as follows: “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”
The unusual part of the village’s allegations, according to sources within the village, is that no employee has complained about sexual harassment by Lanz. In addition, there does not appear to be any direct claim of sexual harassment other than a reference in the press release that theoretically “no employee should ever have to witness or listen to sex acts of a co-worker while on duty”.
Lanz and the Firefighters Union had vigorously denied that Lanz had acted inappropriately or in violation of any departmental rules. As part of the settlement, the Village also agreed to not disparage Lanz to future potential employers, which is a similar provision to one included in the 2012 settlement with the village’s former legal counsel, Tressler LLP. Mayor Sandra Bury, and her allies, had campaigned against that settlement claiming that the payment by Tressler to the Village indicated guilt.
Deetjen had also previously pursued a criminal investigation of Lanz with the Cook County State’s Attorney claiming that union funds had been misappropriated. No union official had made such a claim and the Cook County State’s Attorney did not find evidence of a crime in order to charge any firefighter or union official. Lanz was an active union member, and one time union officer, who was involved in various disputes with Deetjen regarding minimum manning.
The Village paid an estimated $100,000 to its own attorneys in legal fees for this matter while Lanz’s legal fees were reportedly paid for by the Illinois Firefighters Association, according to sources close to the fire department.