KANKAKEE — Kankakee County found a way to deal with an employee who alleged harassment and recorded it: Charge her with felony eavesdropping.
The employee, Diane Redwitz, complained of harassment by her co-workers at the highway department, and when she told her supervisor, nothing was done, according to her lawsuit.
In fall 2017, at the recommendation of the county’s human resources director, Redwitz was told she should contact sheriff’s chief deputy, Ken McCabe, to assist her with her complaints, according to the lawsuit.
During a meeting with a detective at the sheriff’s office, she was asked whether she had proof of harassment.
In response, Redwitz, now 66, supplied cellphone audio recordings she made in her county office with her phone in plain sight. In Illinois, it is against the law to record private conversations without the knowledge of participants.
At no time, the lawsuit said, did the detective or any other county employee warn Redwitz that the recordings could constitute evidence of a crime.
McCabe, the lawsuit said, coordinated with the state’s attorney and the highway department employees to terminate Redwitz’s employment and “maliciously prosecute” her in retaliation for her complaints.
On Oct. 31, 2017, the county fired Redwitz, claiming her termination was the result of its intent to file a felony charge against her, the lawsuit said.
On July 17, 2018, Redwitz pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. As part of her agreement with prosecutors, the case was to be dismissed as long as she has no trouble with the law for a year.
According to the lawsuit, Redwitz pleaded guilty to avoid a trial on a felony charge that could have resulted in jail and to let her expunge the charge from her record.
‘NOT TO WORRY’
In 2006, Redwitz started with the highway department as a geographic information system technician.
In March 2013, one of her co-workers started harassing her by yelling and swearing at her and altering her work space, which included his putting green board on her office windows, the lawsuit said. That employee allegedly became so angry with her, he yelled at her to “get the (expletive)” in her office.
Redwitz complained to her supervisor about her co-worker, but she was told “not to worry about it,” the lawsuit said. She continued to make regular complaints to her supervisor about her co-workers’ harassment.
Because her employer failed to protect her, she said in her lawsuit that she began setting her cellphone on her office desk in hopes of catching her co-workers’ harassing behavior, according to the lawsuit.
On Aug. 24, 2017, one of the co-workers came into the doorway of her office, blocked the door and yelled at her, making her fear for her safety, according to the lawsuit. She said she immediately complained about her co-worker’s conduct.
The next day, she panicked as she was driving to the “harassing work environment,” so she instead drove to her doctor’s office. She was ordered to take medical leave, she said.
In September 2017, Redwitz filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the county.
Redwitz, who filed her federal lawsuit last year, alleges age and sex discrimination and malicious prosecution.
In its response, the county said Redwitz had no legitimate claim for malicious prosecution because the county had probable cause in her case and nothing in the criminal proceedings was “indicative of her innocence.” The county also denied her other charges.
The county’s attorney, Julie Bruch, declined to comment on the contents of the lawsuit. She said the two sides were not in settlement negotiations.
Redwitz’s lawyer, Meghan Preston, said her client repeatedly sought help to deal with the harassment. When asked for proof, Preston said, her client was “forthcoming” with the county.
In her last full year at the county, Redwitz made $69,000, according to OpenTheBooks.com.
In a recent public records request, the Daily Journal asked for Redwitz’s termination letter and the documents in her criminal case.
But the county denied the request, explaining disclosure would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation. The county also noted the pending lawsuit.
This was unusual because public bodies typically release upon request documents in closed criminal matters such as Redwitz’s.
Don Craven, an attorney for the Illinois Press Association, said the sheriff’s office appeared to have no legal justification to keep the criminal file under wraps because it is closed.
The Daily Journal has filed an appeal of the denial with the attorney general’s office, a right any public records requester can exercise under state law.
Sometimes state’s attorneys voluntarily assign cases to independent prosecutors when they have conflicts of interest. In Redwitz’s case, State’s Attorney Jim Rowe’s job responsibilities could be seen as conflicting. He not only prosecutes crimes, but protects the county legally in cases such as harassment claims.
In an interview, Rowe, one of the defendants in the case, said the county’s insurance carrier’s lawyers handle lawsuits such as Redwitz’s.
“We’re not involved at all in the civil case,” he said.
Preston said it was “too premature to make a call” about whether the state’s attorney had a conflict of interest.
“I won’t say whether that will or will not be at issue in the future,” she said.