Judge Dismisses Shakman Litigation Against the Forest Preserve District of Cook County
U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Sidney I. Schenkier has granted a motion to dismiss the Shakman litigation against the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The motion was filed jointly by the District and Michael Shakman, with the agreement of the Court-Appointed District Compliance Administrator. With this decision, the Judge confirmed that the District has achieved substantial compliance with the Shakman Consent Decrees, and that political considerations play no role in hiring or employment decisions made by the District with respect to non-exempt employees. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County is the second city or county agency to be found in substantial compliance with the Shakman Consent Decrees. “When I took office two years ago, I pledged that the Forest Preserve District and Cook County would root out political favoritism in hiring and employment decisions,” Forest Preserve District of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. “The corrupt practices of the past were unfair to the taxpayers of this County, who picked up the tab. They were unfair to the qualified applicants who never had the chance to interview for open positions. And they were unfair to the many good, hard-working employees who were denied promotions.” “Over the past two years, we put policies and procedures in place that will make sure that these actions cannot and will not happen again.” Forest Preserve District of Cook County Accomplishments The District achieved a number of accomplishments, including: Drafting and implementing a new hiring plan that includes procedures, such as an electronic application process and automated applicant screening, designed to ensure that unlawful political considerations play no role in the hiring process; Hiring a Director of Compliance; Implementing mandatory training of all employees on the new hiring plan; Adopting an ordinance which allows Cook County’s Office of Independent Inspector General to investigate allegations of unlawful political contacts, unlawful political discrimination, and other wrong-doing; and Developing policies and procedures to ensure that every District employee is aware of their obligation to report all instances of unlawful political discrimination and political contacts related to employment-related activities. Additionally, since 2011 the District has performed a comprehensive desk audit, revised the job descriptions of every position, and implemented annual performance reviews of staff. “Those are changes that have a real impact on the day-to-day lives of people who work for the District, they have a real impact on the quality of service that the District offers to the public, and in the end, that is a central tenet of what this case really is all about: that merit and performance and not politics should be the touchstone for employment decisions,” Judge Schenkier said. “Achieving substantial compliance is a substantial accomplishment for the District. That is an accomplishment that did not happen merely by chance. It happened because people believed that this was an important goal to achieve and worked hard to make it happen.” History of the Shakman Litigation The Shakman case was filed against the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and seventeen other city and county agencies in 1969. In 1978, Plaintiffs and the District entered into a consent decree, which specifically prohibited the District from “conditioning or affecting any term or aspect of governmental employment (with respect to persons once hired) upon or because of any political factor.” In 1994, a subsequent consent decree was entered to extend the prohibitions mentioned above to the District’s hiring practices with certain exceptions. In 2009, the Court entered the Supplemental Relief Order (SRO) establishing the Office of District Compliance Administrator (DCA) for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. The Court designated Jan Carlson to serve as the DCA and to advise the Court whether the District is in substantial compliance with the 1994 Consent Decree and the SRO. From January 14, 2009 through December 31, 2012, the District has been billed nearly $4.7 million in costs related to the Shakman litigation.