On July 9, 2021, Judge Matthew Kennelly granted a motion filed by clients of HSPRD and co-counsel to intervene 529 women employees of Cook County Jail in the federal lawsuit Howard, et al. v. Cook County Sheriff’s Office. The hundreds of women intervening have all been subjected to extreme sexual harassment by male detainees at the jail and courthouse, including masturbation attacks, an epidemic of indecent exposure, and a barrage of sexualized epithets, sexual vulgarities, and threats of sexual violence. The women say that the County and Sheriffs’ Office have failed to take this harassment seriously, have failed to take meaningful steps to prevent it, and that no women—in any setting—should be subjected to masturbation or sexual threats and sexually harassing comments in the workplace.
Sexual harassment victims filed the lawsuit as a class action in 2017, at the same time that a group of women public defenders filed a similar class action suit against the same parties. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the Cook County Board of Commissioners settled the public defenders’ case more than a year ago. But instead of reaching a fair resolution with their own employees, the Sheriff’s Office and County moved to decertify the class. The move spurned 529 women to come forward and file individual claims under their own names, turning what could have been a procedural victory for the Jail into a watershed moment for employees demanding accountability.
On July 8, some of the Plaintiffs described the harrowing conditions for women Jail employees at a press conference:
Watch the WTTW Report HERE
The women are represented by HSPRD attorneys Caryn C. Lederer, Emily Brown, Karen Villagomez, and paralegal Katie Freund, along with Marni Willenson of Willenson Law, LLC, Noelle Brennan of Noelle Brennan & Associates, Ltd., Shelly Kulwin of Kulwin, Masciopinto & Kulwin, LLP and Ellen Eardley and Joshua Karsh of Mehri & Skalet, PLLC.