Friday, September 29, 2023
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County Must Answer for Employee’s Misconduct

CHICAGO (CN) - A woman conned by a hospital employee into giving him sexual favors in return for a non-existent hospital job may sue Cook County, the man's employer, a federal judge ruled.

Cook County hired Felice Vanaria as an administrative assistant at Oak Forest Hospital in 2005, despite having fired him from his job as a probation officer in 1998 for demanding sexual favors in exchange for more lenient probation conditions.

Two years later, Vanaria met Krystal Almaguer, a professional massage therapist, and claimed he could hire her to fill a massage therapist position at the hospital, when in fact, Vanaria had no authority to offer anyone a job at Oak Forest.

Nevertheless, Vanaria interviewed Almaguer at the hospital and offered her a job with a salary of $52,000 a year plus benefits, on the condition that she undress, give him a kiss and massage Vanaria while wearing "something sexy."

Almaguer consented to the first two conditions, but eventually turned down the job because she was uncomfortable with Vanaria's advances.

One week later, Vanaria called Almaguer and offered her another position with a higher salary, but demanded a naked massage as a condition of employment. During the massage, Vanaria made sexual advances and demanded that Almaguer perform manual stimulation, and she complied.

When Vanaria told Almaguer she needed to fill out a new application form - and give him a second massage - Almaguer became suspicious and called the Oak Forest Hospital's Human Resources Department, which informed her that the hospital was not hiring.

The police arrested Vanaria in March 2007, and he eventually pled guilty to bribery and official misconduct.

Almaguer subsequently sued Vanaria's employer, Cook County, over his misconduct.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman dismissed Almaguer's sexual harassment claims, because "despite Vanaria's outrageous conduct, the Plaintiff cannot meet the requisite employment relationship nor does she attempt to claim such relationship exists. The record is bereft of any material facts that demonstrate any economic realities of an employer/employee relationship or any degree of control exercised by Vanaria over Plaintiff as an alleged employee."

However, the judge found that Cook County may have failed to adequately address the sexual harassment complaints against Vanaria.

"A material issue of fact exists as to whether Vanaria's misconduct was a highly predictable consequence of Cook County's alleged failure to adequately respond to sexual harassment complaints against Vanaria. Prior to the facts alleged in this instant action, three complaints were made against Vanaria for misuse of his employment status to gain sexual favors ... These incidents demonstrate that Cook County responded to complaints of sexual harassment once they were made, but continued to hire Vanaria in public service situations," Coleman said.

The judge continued: "Plaintiff's allegation suggests that Vanaria's background demonstrated an obvious likelihood that he would engage in the sexual misconduct alleged in this matter. Further, Almaguer has presented statements that suggest that Cook County supervisors were deliberately indifferent to these risks. Therefore, plaintiff has presented a factual question as to whether Cook County's hiring procedures demonstrate a deliberate indifference to Vanaria's foreseeable sexual misconduct."

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