Oak Park cop sues female supervisor for sexual harassment, battery

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By Jean Lotus

Staff Reporter

An Oak Park police officer has sued the village of Oak Park and a female police sergeant in federal court, alleging that the female supervisor shoved and threatened him nine days after he filed a sexual harassment complaint against her with the department.

The suit also alleges that the department and the village retaliated against Officer Rasul Freelain by withholding and delaying the allocation of sick days under the Family Medical Leave Act.

The lawsuit was filed May 17 in U.S. District Court.

Freelain, who has worked for the department for more than 10 years as a juvenile investigations detective and school resource officer, claims he filed a sexual harassment complaint with the police department on May 10, 2012 against Sgt. Dina Vardal for harassment incidents going back to 2007. Vardal has worked for the department for 15 years.

A week and a half later, Freelain said in the complaint, he was working near the Austin Blue Line stop as an extra police presence during the NATO events in Chicago. In the lawsuit, he alleges Vardal approached him and shoved him up against a squad car, pushing her face into his and threatening him by repeating the words, "Look out."

In the complaint, Freelain said police department supervisors and the village Human Relations Director Frank Spataro discouraged him from filing a battery claim against Vardal until the internal sexual harassment investigation was complete. A year later, the investigation remains open, according to the lawsuit.

According to Freelain's lawyer, Brian Barrido, Sgt. Vardal was not on duty when she allegedly shoved Freelain in May 2012. The lawsuit includes a state-law civil claim for assault and battery against Vardal.

The lawsuit lists a series of actions by Sgt. Vardal over six years that Freelain claims were sexually harassing.

According to the lawsuit, Freelain, who is married, initially rebuffed Vardal's advances in 2007, at which point she began to "retaliate against and harass" Freelain by insulting him in front of co-workers, rejecting his arrest reports for "inconsequential typographical errors" and coming to a traffic stop and ridiculing Freelain in front of fellow officers.

She also allegedly criticized Freelain over open police radio.

According to the suit, Freelain's wife became ill in January 2012 with what would eventually be diagnosed as cancer. The suit claims Freelain stepped down from his detective post to patrol officer, to allow him to have more time to care for his wife.

The suit says this put Freelain under Vardal's supervision more often. According to the suit, the harassment allegedly started again. In spring of 2012, Vardal allegedly told Freelain he looked "cute" on a video of a DUI field sobriety test, and later she approached and allegedly offered to give him individual training "one on one" on her "own personal time" to improve his skills. He reportedly declined. He also claims Vardal allegedly called him on his personal cellphone.

At that point he spoke with Spataro in human resources and filed a sexual harassment complaint May 10.

According to the federal complaint, after the alleged shoving incident May 19, Deputy Police Chief Anthony Ambrose told Freelain he would personally conduct the criminal investigation and that Freelain could not file a criminal complaint.

The suit alleges that the police and human resources departments then retaliated against Freelain by mischaracterizing medical leave days as voluntary instead of work-related.

When Freelain's wife required surgery in December 2102, the department and human resources told Freelain he could not take Family Medical Leave Act time off to care for her, as required by federal law, because he had taken too many personal sick days, according to the suit.

The suit said his sick days were reinstated and he was able to care for her until early March at which point he had to return to work. He was not able to secure an extension of his Family Leave Act time until late April 2013.

Village spokesman David Powers said in an email the village does not comment on pending litigation or personnel matters.

"I can say, however, that the village expects its employees to treat one another with respect and dignity," he said. "Actions contrary to this expectation certainly are not condoned or tolerated."

The court set a response deadline of June 11 for the village of Oak Park and Vardal. At that point the village and Vardal's lawyers will likely ask for more time, file a motion to dismiss or answer the complaint, Barrido said.

"We are confident our complaint will survive a motion to dismiss," he added.

Reader Comments

9 Comments - Add Your Comment

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pat healey from oak park  

Posted: July 14th, 2013 6:00 PM

I taught at Percy Julian during the time Officer Freelain was a school resource officer. I was impressed by his professional competence, his relationships with the students, and his personal integrity. I was delighted when he was promoted to detective. I hope the OPPD supports one of their best.

Resident  

Posted: June 2nd, 2013 10:13 PM

Is the Village Board investigating Frank Spataro and Anthony Ambrose? Who else in top management knew about this? What else is going on there? Oak Parkers have a right to know.

maggy  

Posted: May 24th, 2013 6:58 AM

This is typical Village Hall behavior, how the employees treat Oak Park citizens, appears to happen even in the police dept., bullies & power prevail. Why isn't the accused on some sort of unpaid leave until this sorted out? Is she truly fit to supervise?

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: May 24th, 2013 12:52 AM

I agree with you, Speedway. Just because something is said in a lawsuit doesn't make it true.

Disgusted from Oak Park  

Posted: May 23rd, 2013 10:27 PM

Wow!! Leave it to the Village of Oak Park and the incompetent management they employ to protect this sexual preditor! When ever I hear the name Frank Spataro I know this will be another disturbing incident they will try to sweep under the rug. I'm pretty sure the Village is still trying to settle another case on behalf of Dina Vardal for sexually assaulting former oak park police officer David Rathbun. How many times are they going to allow this to happen so they tax payers can foot the bill??

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: May 23rd, 2013 7:05 PM

You have just heard half the story. I will reserve my comment until there is more information!

Violet Aura  

Posted: May 23rd, 2013 5:41 PM

Cont. medical school for the first time ever! That is particularly significant since medicine and science in general have traditionally been male professions.

Violet Aura  

Posted: May 23rd, 2013 5:40 PM

Cont. I was in a preschool classroom and during recess the girls were fascinated with an earthworm on the ground in a puddle. The boys were either disinterested or squeamish. A GIRL was the one who picked up the worm with her bare hands to take it to another location! I find that in young children, girls are doing better academically overall. Even at the college level I would look around and say: "Where are the males?!" Yes, there were some, but I just heard that women surpassed men in Cont.

Violet Aura  

Posted: May 23rd, 2013 5:38 PM

Good on him for going public with this abuse of power! As a man, I am sure it must have been difficult to risk the possible ridicule of others in filing this suit. It's a doggone shame that there are petty tyrants in this world who have no sense of their personal power and use their job title to harrass those who won't do their bidding 100% of the time. And what is up with women these days?! Some of us are trying to emulate the worst characteristics of the opposite sex. Cont.

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