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Court Retains Jurisdiction to Issue Sanctions Against Defendant City Fire Department for Spoliation of Evidence in Sexual Harassment Case

Posted on February 28th, 2018

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In Dena Lewis-Bystrzycki v. City of Country Club Hills, No.  2012 L 009916, (Cir. Ct. Cook County, 2017), the Court ordered sanctions against the Defendants (collective) City of Country Club Hills Fire Department after it became apparent that Defendants had wiped data from a network storage drive for computer backups (by using anti-forensic tools and disk cleanup software on department computers.)  This destruction of web history, electronic data, and multiple files by Defendants violated prior Court orders to preserve data and evidence .

Dena Lewis-Bystrzycki (“Plaintiff”) was a member of the fire department from 1998, and filed a sexual harassment suit in 2012. Plaintiff alleged that she was regularly sexually harassed.  Plaintiff further alleged that retaliatory and discriminatory actions were made against her for reporting the misbehavior. The discovery underlying the motion for sanctions arose out of Plaintiff’s allegations that her male co-workers regularly watched pornography at the fire station.

In reviewing the sanction motion, the Court considered that it may impose upon the offending party or his or her attorney, or both, an appropriate sanction, which may include an order to pay to the other party or parties the amount of reasonable expenses incurred as a result of the misconduct, including a reasonable attorney fee.  The Court further considered that when the misconduct is willful, it may also consider a monetary penalty, and when appropriate, by contempt proceedings, and compel obedience by any party or person.  Notwithstanding the entry of a judgment or an order of dismissal, whether voluntary or involuntary, the Court ruled that a trial court shall retain jurisdiction to enforce, on its own motion or on the motion of any party, any order imposing monetary sanctions, including such orders as may be entered on motions which were pending prior to the filing of a notice or motion seeking a judgment or order of dismissal.

Defendant denied any effort was made to conceal or destroy evidence. The Court set a hearing on the form of sanction for February 2018, which hearing was later continued to March 2018.

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