Reports made public by Park District Board detail sexual misconduct cases and mismanagement of complaints; District vows to continue holding offenders accountable while overhauling workplace conditions to prioritize safety and accountability
CHICAGO - Today, the Chicago Park District announced a series of immediate actions in response to the release of two reports: the Third Quarter Report by the Park District Office of the Inspector General and an independent report on the District’s handling of sexual misconduct claims conducted by the Arnold & Porter Law Firm. These reports, which were made public by the Park District Board, detail additional substantiated claims of sexual misconduct by Park District lifeguards, egregious mishandling of complaints by management and organizational failures that prevented victims of sexual misconduct from receiving proper protections. Upon receipt of these reports, Park District Interim General Superintendent and CEO Rosa Escareño took immediate disciplinary action, including the dismissal of three senior managers. This marks the next step in the ongoing process to hold wrongdoers accountable and build a culture at the Park District that prioritizes accountability, transparency and safety for all employees and patrons.
“Today marks a new day at the Chicago Park District,” said Interim General Superintendent and CEO Escareño. “I am committed to the highest level of accountability and transparency as we work tirelessly to rebuild trust with our employees and all the community members who rely on our parks. We must and we will do better- nothing is more important than protecting our employees and patrons, and letting them know that reports of improper and illegal conduct will be taken seriously and acted upon.”
The reports made public today encompass the two aspects of investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct at the Park District. The Park District Office of the Inspector General (OIG), with the support of the Franczek P.C. Law Firm, has been tasked with investigating reports of sexual misconduct perpetrated by Park District employees within the Beaches and Pools unit. Simultaneously, the Arnold & Porter Law Firm was hired by the Park District Board of Commissioners to conduct an investigation into how complaints were handled by Park District management, including senior leadership.
“The Board of Commissioners is dedicated to transparency and accountability as we work to address the issues facing the Park District,” said Board of Commissioners President Avis LaVelle. “To that end, we have worked to make sure that we dedicate the necessary resources to allow these investigations to be completed promptly and thoroughly. We owe it to our workers and parkgoers to do everything in our power to address the systematic issues facing our workplace, and I look forward to working with the Interim Superintendent to enact the change we need.”
The Third Quarter OIG Report, published today, provides the latest update of the sexual misconduct investigation. This report includes a summary of four instances in which lifeguards engaged in separate instances of sexual misconduct dating back to 2015. In response to this investigation, and in line with the OIG recommendations, Superintendent Escareño moved immediately to ensure that these four employees were dismissed. Two employees had already resigned while under emergency suspension, in June and September 2021 respectively, and a third is no longer an employee of the Park District – all three have been coded as “Do Not Rehire.” Termination proceedings have been initiated against the fourth employee, who was under emergency suspension due to this investigation, and that individual will be coded as “Do Not Rehire.”
“The OIG is committed to working with the Board of Commissioners and Park District management to craft and implement upgraded policies and procedures pertaining to assault, bullying, and harassment,” said Alison Perona, Interim Inspector General. “These protocols will be designed to ensure that these types of complaints are handled in a sensitive manner that ensures fair and just results.”
Presented to the Park District Board earlier today and made public following the Board meeting, the completed Arnold & Porter Report details pervasive lack of proper response by senior management to serious allegations of sexual misconduct among Park District lifeguards. While this report does not include specific recommendations for the Park District, Superintendent Escareño immediately acted upon the report and moved to dismiss the senior managers who failed to take action required by Park District rules after receiving complaints of sexual misconduct. Escareño asked for and received the resignation of the Park District Chief Programming Officer, who was notified by former Superintendent Mike Kelly of a sexual misconduct complaint as early August 2019 and failed to proper corrective action. Additionally, Escareño terminated two senior managers – the Assistant Director of Recreation and the Manager of the Beaches and Pools Unit – who failed to follow proper reporting requirements upon receiving complaints of alleged sexual misconduct.
“I want to thank the Chicago Park District for assisting us in gathering information and for fully cooperating with the investigation, and the Board of Commissioners for making this Report possible,” said Valarie Hays, a partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter and lead investigator. “I hope this Report sheds light on critical deficiencies in Park District management and gives the District the insight it needs to overhaul policies and rebuild trust.”
In addition to the immediate disciplinary actions taken based on the results of these reports, the Park District is committed to the systematic change that is necessary to ensure a safe and respectful workplace for all employees. The report has made it clear that the Park District has failed to instill a system to protect victims of sexual misconduct and to ensure that complaints were handled promptly and competently. Over the coming weeks, under the leadership of Superintendent Escareño, the District will utilize the findings of this Report to overhaul policies and procedures and establish clear protocols for investigating complaints while ensuring that all employees are well trained to prevent and report sexual misconduct.
Part of this plan will include the establishment of a new Office of Protection, funded in the District’s 2022 Budget Recommendations, dedicated to investigating all allegations of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and other prohibited acts. This Office will be given the necessary resources and staffed with employees that have the required expertise to proficiently and expeditiously conduct these types of investigations. Critically, to help build a new workplace culture, the Park District is prioritizing the availability of support resources for survivors of sexual assault and ensuring that all employees are fully trained to prevent and report sexual assault.
While today marks an important milestone in the multi-faceted investigation of the Park District, the OIG probe into allegations of sexual misconduct among Park District lifeguards remains ongoing. Last week, the OIG sent a regular Interim Report to Superintendent Escareño indicating that three additional employees in the Beaches and Pools Unit were under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct. As part of the District’s renewed committed to taking immediate disciplinary action based on the recommendations of the OIG throughout the investigation, Superintendent Escareño acted immediately to place these employees under emergency suspension as recommended by the OIG. In total, four Park District employees remain under emergency suspension as the OIG works to complete their investigation, while 14 Park District employees have been terminated or coded “Do Not Rehire” following their resignation since the beginning of the OIG investigation for sexual misconduct, workplace violence or a similar violation.