The long and drawn-out legal battle between Oak Park Police Officer Rasul Freelain and the village of Oak Park has come to an end, with the parties agreeing to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by Freelain against the village almost 10 years ago.
Fired by the village in 2017, Freelain sued successfully to regain his post and was promoted to sergeant last year.
“We’re happy that we were able to resolve the case in a manner that was satisfactory to our client after such a long period of time. It was a long, hard fight,” said Freelain’s attorney Robert Robertson, of Robertson Duric.
As part of the agreement, the village of Oak Park will pay $175,000, with $80,000 of that amount going to Freelain and the remaining $95,000 to Robertson Duric.
Throughout the years, Freelain has maintained that he was subjected to harassment and retaliation within the police department after rejecting the unwanted sexual advances of a female superior, former Sgt. Dina Vardal.
The agreement, reached Aug. 3, states that both parties acknowledge that the settlement is not an admission of liability or misconduct “by or on the part of the village or any of its future, current or former officers, agents and employees and shall not serve as evidence of wrongdoing by or on the part of the village.”
Wednesday Journal has reached out to the village of Oak Park for comment.
Freelain made the initial complaint against Vardal within the police department in May 2012, citing incidents of reported sexual harassment dating as far back as 2007.
One year later, in May 2013, Freelain filed a lawsuit against the village of Oak Park and the police department, claiming that Vardal threatened him nine days after he lodged the sexual harassment complaint. The lawsuit stated that Freelain was discouraged from filing a battery complaint. Two other officers, both of whom claimed to have been victims of Vardal’s abuse, were listed as potential witnesses.
Vardal was placed on paid administrative leave in November 2014, following the suspension of a male probationary police officer the previous month. Wednesday Journal reported that the officer was alleged to have been placed on administrative leave after being questioned regarding details of his relationship with Vardal. She resigned from the force Aug. 12, 2015, following a nine-month paid leave of absence.
Seven days later, Aug. 19, 2015, a second officer, Anthony Paul Razzino, filed a complaint against Vardal with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
The complaint claimed Razzino was subjected to discrimination on the basis of his sex and suffered retaliation by police officials. As legal counsel, Razzino retained the services of attorney Robert Robertson, the same attorney representing Freelain. A lawsuit was never filed, Robertson told Wednesday Journal.
In addition to Vardal, Freelain claimed that other superior officers engaged in the retaliation after Freelain made the sexual harassment complaint. The lawsuit states that Freelain was refused time to care for his wife, who was battling breast cancer, in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The lawsuit argued that in an effort to punish Freelain for reporting Vardal for sexual harassment to the village’s human resources department, the village “misclassified his leave from work; prevented his opportunity of income and promotion; subjected him to investigations; refused his ‘light duty’ request; denied his scheduling requests; subjected him to a fitness for duty exam; delayed the grant of his Family and Medical Leave Act time; and refused to permit him to sign a criminal or internal complaint.”
The case was dismissed in U.S. District Court on Nov. 3, 2016, with U.S. District Court Judge Manish S. Shah stating in his decision that Freelain and his counsel failed to prove that Freelain had been the subjected to retaliation by his superiors.
While that case was on appeal, Freelain was fired from the police department in May 2017. Freelain filed a second lawsuit in response, claiming his termination was also an act of retaliation by Anthony Ambrose, then police chief.
The termination lawsuit claimed that Freelain was officially fired because he accessed his own police reports in two cases – the first being the use of excessive force against an Oak Park resident during a domestic battery arrest in November 2013, for which Freelain and the Oak Park Police Department were accused and eventually found guilty.
The second case mentioned in the termination lawsuit involved the 2014 murder of Oak Park resident Sheila von Weise-Mack carried out by her daughter Heather Mack and Tommy Schaefer, her daughter’s boyfriend, while the three were vacationing in Bali.
The murder recently made headlines again, when it was announced that Mack will be released from prison in Indonesia in October, shaving three years off her 10-year sentence.
Freelain’s sexual harassment lawsuit claims that Freelain had attempted to report to former Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley that Weise-Mack feared her daughter would kill her. Freelain said he was instructed against doing so as the chief “was ‘tired’ of [Freelain] and ‘[didn’t] want to hear’ from him.”
The village of Oak Park was ordered to reinstate Freelain and reimburse him for lost wages in May 2019 after arbitrator Peter R. Meyers ruled in Freelain’s favor. Freelain is still serving on the Oak Park police force and was promoted to the rank of sergeant about a year ago, according to Robertson, who added that his client is ready to move forward.
“At the end of the day, he’s been through a lot,” said Robertson.