Judge Refuses to Sanction Chicago Fire Over Radio Recording

The US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has denied a request by a city paramedic to sanction the city for failing to preserve a radio communication she claimed was relevant to her sexual harassment suit.

Jane Doe 1 is one of five female paramedics who filed suit against the city in 2018 claiming they have been subjected to a hostile work environment while working for the Chicago Fire Department. According to the lawsuit, Doe 1 claims that during a drill on October 28, 2017, a chief officer “called Jane Doe 1’s ambulance over the radio” and “berated Jane Doe 1 in a harsh tone stating that she was not to question him and to do as she was told.” Doe 1 claims the verbal abuse was retaliation for her having turned down his advances the week before.

Doe 1’s attorney put the city on notice that the radio recording was relevant to the legal proceedings and must be preserved. The city countered that (1) the radio channel on which the exchange took place was unrecorded, (2) that by the time the preservation request came it would have been deleted already even if it had existed, and (3) even if the request had been timely it was not specific enough to put the city on notice of which radio recording it was referring to.

Judge Sunil R. Harjani denied Doe 1’s request for sanctions concluding there was insufficient evidence that the radio channel on which the communication took place was recorded. Judge Harjani further ruled that even if the recording did exist, and even if it should have been preserved, there would be no prejudice to Doe 1 because the information could have been replaced by other available evidence.

Here is a copy of the ruling:

incidentally, Doe 1 was seeking to take take advantage of the failure of the fire department to preserve electronic information. It is a pretty common strategy being employed by attorneys these days which I discussed at length this month in my July 2019 column in Firehouse Magazine.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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