Aldermen approve a $60,000 settlement in discrimination case


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Ald. Cicely Fleming. Fleming expressed her opposition of the adoption of the resolution to settle Shannon Lamaster v. City of Evanston et al.

Julia Richardson, Reporter

City Council authorized Evanston to issue a payment of $60,000 to settle Shannon Lamaster v. City of Evanston et al on Monday.

Lamaster, a Libertyville resident and former employee at the Robert Crown Community Center, filed a discrimination charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights in November 2017. In the claim, she alleged that her manager, Marie Heiser, violated the Family Medical and Leave Act by interfering with her right to take medical leave.

Lamaster, the skating program supervisor at the time, mentioned her pregnancy to Heiser in early 2017, but claims Heiser did not adhere to her request for confidentiality. The lawsuit states Lamaster recalls feeling “compelled to disclose her pregnancy to everyone” during a staff meeting.

Following the meeting, Heiser reportedly told Lamaster to submit her FMLA paperwork 30 days earlier than the law and city policies require, and then on a separate occasion, demanded the paperwork 90 days in advance. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, approximately 13 percent of employees take FMLA leave over the course of a year.

Lamaster also reports being scolded for not informing her manager of obstetrician appointments, despite scheduling them during lunch breaks while working overtime. Heiser told Lamaster she could no longer leave for appointments without managerial permission, although she had never before placed such restrictions on employees.

Lamaster expressed her concerns to Lawrence Hemingway, Director of Parks, Recreation, and Community Service, who said he would work to address them. Shortly after, Heiser placed Lamaster on a “Performance Improvement Plan” for allegedly not working hard enough.

The city approved Lamaster’s maternity leave request, which she submitted over a month before her anticipated due date. However, Heiser suspended Lamaster for five days, for not requesting leave exactly how Heiser ordered and not complying with the “Performance Improvement Plan” she had been put on.

Lamaster took five days of unpaid leave, even after she complained to Hemingway and the city’s retired assistant parks director, Robert Dorneker, according to the lawsuit.

The next month, Lamaster’s water broke while moving heavy tables, after Heiser declined her request for help.

“[Heiser], knowing I had a high-risk pregnancy and near the time to have the baby, directed me to set up heavy tables,” Lamaster said in the lawsuit. “When I asked for help from maintenance, she said that they were too busy.”

During Lamaster’s maternity leave, city staffers, reportedly under the direction of Heiser, asked her to work remotely. The next month, the city refused to review her suspension. Heiser then forced Lamaster to come into work while she was still on FMLA leave and without notifying her in advance, causing her to bring her newborn to work with her.

On Monday, Council passed the resolution 7-2, with Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) and Thomas Suffredin (6th) opposing.

Fleming said she voted “no” due to seeing other lawsuits filed against city personnel, and made it clear she wanted a plan going forward to help prevent them.

“I still have some concerns (if) there’s something we need to be doing differently with our staff or some training, management classes, whatever it is, so that we can maybe prevent some of these personnel lawsuits,” she said.

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