St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly released settlements of five sexual harassment complaints against former county clerk Bob Delaney on May 12, but he did not identify Delaney’s victims.
“These women worry about their privacy,” Kelly said in a May 15 interview about his decision to redact the names before releasing the documents. "We don't want the accuser to become the accused.
“They want something done but they don’t want to make a big public thing out of it.”
Kelly said sexual harassment complaints are more sensitive than workers’ compensation disputes or other claims against the county.
He said he was afraid grievances won’t be addressed if women know that their identities might become public.
The documents he released showed the county paid the women $200,000, $150,000, $135,000, $90,000, and $90,000, for a total of $665,000.
They showed that solely for tax purposes, the payments were for alleged compensatory damages not arising of physical injuries and for punitive damages.
Kelly had withheld the documents from the Belleville News-Democrat but on May 9, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan directed him to release them.
Madigan counsel Michael Luke wrote that confidentiality clauses in the settlements contravene public policy and cannot be enforced.
“The public has a right to know the purposes for which public funds are expended, including the identity of those who receive the funds,” he wrote.
He called for immediate and appropriate action, pointing out that Kelly could redact private information.
Kelly gave the settlements to the News-Democrat, without names.
He can appeal Madigan’s opinion to circuit court in Sangamon County or Cook County, in 35 days.
“We have to decide what the women want to do,” Kelly said.
He said the release of names of sexual harassment victims is a policy question that has not been answered.
“There are some lines that have not been clearly drawn.”
Last Dec. 30, a News-Democrat reporter asked for all settlements the county had reached all year.
Assistant state’s attorney Sean Murley gave six agreements to the reporter on Jan. 14, writing that others would remain confidential.
Murley wrote that parties entered into the agreements with the understanding that details would not be disclosed.
He wrote that their privacy should be protected because of the nature of the allegations.
On Jan. 28, the News-Democrat asked Madigan to review Murley’s response.
On Feb. 3, Madigan asked Murley for unredacted copies of the documents he withheld.
Murley provided them and wrote, “Disclosure of these documents would be in direct violation of confidentiality agreement entered into by the parties.”
“In addition, these cases involve sexual harassment claims that are by nature considered confidential.”
He wrote that disclosing names of victims would further embarrass and humiliate them.
Luke, however, found nothing embarrassing or humiliating in the agreements.
“This office’s confidential review of the withheld documents disclosed that they do not include references to the specific allegations underlying the complaints that led to the settlements,” Luke wrote.
“The county has not provided legal support for its assertion that the release of the settlement agreements would result in an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the complainants.”
That didn’t change Kelly’s position on keeping the names private.
He issued a statement that, “The public has a right to know how public money is used, but I’m not sure anyone has a right to put these women through hell again.
“The decision to withhold the names was mine and mine alone after speaking to the women involved. They didn’t and still don’t want their names known.
“Employment law research shows one of the top reasons victims don't come forward with genuine complaints is because they fear for their privacy.”
In his interview he said that because Madigan issued a binding opinion, he can release the settlements to anyone without liability.
He immediately released them to the Record.
They showed that all five women alleged harassment through assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
All five complained to the Illinois human rights commission.
Four stated that they endured harassment through June 19, the day Delaney resigned.
The one who would receive the biggest payment didn’t endure it that long.
Her settlement states that the harassment ended last May 15.
It states, “I, the undersigned, understand that my employment with St. Clair County results in an immediate layoff without cause for termination.
“St. Clair County agrees to give me a neutral reference and will make necessary corrections to my personnel file.”
She alleged not only sexual harassment but also national origin discrimination and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment.
For tax purposes, she allocated $50,000 of her $200,000 payment to a wage claim, but not as back pay.
She and the county declared the wage allocation reasonable, “based on disputed facts and law and on the parties’ respective assessments of the likelihood of success of each possible claim and defense.”
All five released all claims against the county, county employees, and Delaney.
Thomas Kennedy of St. Louis represented all five.