Wrongful Death Case: Hollander Law Offices Files $2 Million Dollar ‘Retaliatory Discharge’ Lawsuit on Behalf of Former Woodlawn Community Development Corp. Employee Over Her Testimony In Wrongful Death Case
Priest Sexual Abuse Case: Robert Holomshek v. The Archdiocese of Chicago
Attempted Suicide by Minor: Michael and Kyle Catalano v. Community Theatre Guild, Inc
Pedestrian Injury Case: Douglas v. Gamawa and Yellow Cab Management
Snowmobile Case: David Stamm, Jr. v. Jeffrey Prochnow and Western National Insurance
Catastrophic Personal Injury Case: Luis Ibarra, Sr. v. Pactiv Corporation
Age Discrimination Case: Swiech v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital
Pregnancy Discrimination and FMLA Act Case: Buffone v. Rosebud Restaurants
Age Discrimination Case: Sabynicz v. Xertrex International
Hollander Law Offices Files $2 Million Dollar ‘Retaliatory Discharge’ Lawsuit on Behalf of Former Woodlawn Community Development Corp. Employee Over Her Testimony In Wrongful Death Case
On June 13, 2006, The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander filed a $2 million dollar lawsuit against Christine Bondie’s former employer, Woodlawn Community Development Corp. for “retaliatory discharge.”
According to the allegations in the lawsuit, Bondie was told by her supervisors to complete work orders, indicating that the Chicago Housing Authority units had working smoke detectors, regardless of whether they did. On August 11, 2001, there was a fire in one of the apartments she had inspected, at the Harold Ickes Homes, which killed two residents, 29-year-old Shlonzo Burnett and her 15-month-old son, Michael Cross.
The Estates of Shlonzo Burnett and Michael Cross subsequently filed wrongful death lawsuits against Woodlawn and the CHA. Bondie was deposed in that case last August and testified that she was instructed to falsify the work orders. The Burnett case settled on March 6, 2006 for $5.75 million, and the settlement and Ms. Bondie’s role was widely reported in the press the following day. On March 8, 2006, Bondie was suspended, and on May 8, 2006, her employment was terminated.
The fire, which occurred on August 6, 2001, was started by two of Burnett’s children. The children suffered smoke inhalation but survived. Shlonzo was sleeping with her infant child, and both succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Robert Holomshek v. The Archdiocese of Chicago
Robert Holomshek, a victim of alleged childhood sexual abuse by Father Joseph Fitzharris, settled his claim with the Archdiocese of Chicago in July, 2007 for $875,000. The settlement was one of the larger payouts which the Archdiocese of Chicago has paid out on sexual abuse claims. The settlement took place during a voluntary mediation conference before a lawsuit was filed. Holomshek, now 37, claimed that he was repeatedly sexually assaulted from the ages of seven to ten years old by Father Fitzharris while he served as an altar boy and attended school at St. Francis Xavier, now known as Resurrection Catholic Academy.
This was not the first time that Father Fitzharris was charged with sexual abuse. A misdemeanor criminal charge was filed against him in the mid 1980’s. Father Fitzharris resigned from the priesthood in January, 1995.
Holomshek claimed to have suppressed the memories of abuse during his childhood until he attended a church function during Easter, 2005. At that time, Holomshek began to remember the incidents of abuse. Holomshek, an Operation Desert Storm veteran and aspiring comic and actor, claimed that the sexual abuse completely affected his life. Holomshek, who participated in the Improv Olympics in Chicago in the late 90’s and did some TV commercials, has been unable to hold down steady employment according to his attorney, Eugene K. Hollander. In an effort to release the pain that he experienced, Holomshek turned to recording his thoughts in a journal and drew the images which he saw in his head. During the mediation conference, Hollander used a collage of the images and his thoughts to demonstrate to church attorneys how he was injured.
Hollander said that “every aspect of my client’s life has been affected. My client’s childhood was taken away.” Holomshek is still in therapy to cope with the issues regarding the abuse, and still continues to remember specific incidents. Hollander said that “while it has been a difficult journey, my client refused to suffer in silence. By coming forward, Mr. Holomshek hopes that other victims of childhood sexual abuse will begin the healing process by confronting their past.” Hollander said that his client is hopeful that with the proceeds of the settlement he can begin to put his life back together.
Michael and Kyle Catalano v. Community Theatre Guild, Inc
Last fall, Kyle Catalano was 12 years old. As part of his extracurricular activities, Kyle participated in local theater at the Community Theatre in Valparaiso, Indiana. On November 22, 2006, Kyle was involved in a dress rehearsal for a play. While outside the presence of any adults, Kyle went down to the basement and took a noose which the Theatre kept as a prop. Kyle attempted to commit suicide at that time. He survived, but suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Kyle, through his father Michael, brought suit against the Theatre for failing to supervise Kyle during his on site activities. Evidence in the case revealed that on two separate occasions, once approximately one year before the incident, and the other, a few days before the act, a parent saw Kyle playing with the noose. The noose, however, remained at the theater.
Though the Theatre denied any liability in the case, Eugene Hollander settled the case for the Defendant’s policy limits of $750,000 shortly after suit was filed. Hollander said that “this case is a tragedy, and while no sum of money could compensate Kyle and his family for their loss, at least Kyle can get the proper medical care that he requires.”
Pedestrian Struck by Taxicab
Douglas v. Gamawa and Yellow Cab Management
On June 25, 2004, Paul Douglas, a 44 year old male, had just finished dinner at a restaurant with friends. Mr. Douglas got up and left his table at an outdoor café, and began to walk northbound on Halsted, crossing Roscoe in Chicago. Defendant Omar Gamawa was driving a Yellow Cab proceeding westbound on Roscoe at 50 miles per hour far in excess of the posted speed limit, and ran a red lightstriking the Plaintiff. Defendant Gamawa pled guilty in traffic court to reckless driving.
Plaintiff sustained a comminuted fracture of the right tibia mid-shaft, and a displaced transverse fracture to the mid-shaft of the right fibula, and a transverse fracture to the left tibia. Plaintiff underwent two surgeries. Plaintiff’s past medical expense was $117,000, and had $35,000 in anticipated future surgeries. His past lost income was $46,000. Plaintiff was employed as a captain of a cruise ship docked at Navy Pier. His annual salary was approximately $100,000.
Plaintiff’s treating doctor was Dr. Stephen Louis, orthopedics. Defendants disclosed Dr. Jerrold Leikin, a toxicologist, Glenview, IL, to testify as to Plaintiff’s blood alcohol level at the time of the occurrence, based upon a blood serum level taken one hour later at the hospital. Mr. Hollander’s thorough cross-examination of Dr. Leikin at deposition was instrumental in resolving the case. Plaintiff’s rebuttal toxicologist was Christopher Long, PhD, St. Louis, MO, who opined that it was impossible to determine a whole blood alcohol level at an earlier time as the Plaintiff consumed a large meal at dinner.
The parties mediated the case. At the mediation, Gene Hollander used a medical illustration prepared by Medivisuals, Inc. The parties settled for a confidential sum prior to trial. At the time of the settlement, Mr. Douglas’s attorneys had won a motion allowing them to pursue punitive damages against the taxicab driver.
Snowmobiler Injured on Snowmobile Trail
David Stamm, Jr. v. Jeffrey Prochnow and Western National Insurance Company
Gene Hollander successfully litigated a snowmobile case, David Stamm, Jr. v. Jeffrey Prochnow and Western National Insurance Company. Mr. Hollander obtained gross verdict of $814,564.91 and a net verdict of $570,195.44 (less 30% comparative negligence) on January 13, 2004.
The Plaintiff’s attorneys were Eugene K. Hollander and Robert Sidkey of The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander. The case was litigated and tried in Walworth County, Wisconsin.
David Stamm, Jr., age 24, went snowmobiling with three friends near his father’s lake cottage, near East Troy, WI. On the evening of February 18, 2000, Plaintiff was traveling northbound on Trail No. 9. Plaintiff turned off of the marked snowmobile trail to meet up with the remaining members of his group at the base of a large hill – the group’s pre-arranged meeting spot. Prochnow left the trail earlier, and traveled on an unmarked path. Defendant crested the hill traveling between 30 and 35 m.p.h. and landed on top of the Plaintiff’s snowmobile, ejecting him.
The Plaintiff contended that the Defendant was negligent in failing to stay on the marked trail, failing to keep a proper lookout for approaching snowmobiles, and failed to maintain an appropriate speed for conditions. Stamm’s attorneys used the Defendant’s Snowmobile Safety Handbook to establish liability. The Defense contended that the Plaintiff caused the accident by failing to fulfill his obligations as the trail leader in picking a poor meeting spot, and that the Plaintiff was comparatively negligent by leaving the trail himself. Stamm’s attorneys used a scale model of the accident scene to show the jury how the accident occurred.
The Plaintiff suffered the following Injuries: Left and right scapula fractures, rib fractures at T1, T2, T3, T4; compression fractures at T9, T10; fractured vertebrae at C6-C7, C7-T1; disc bulge at C4-5 and C5-C6; second through fifth metacarpal bones fractured in right hand; left orbital wall fracture; liver and spleen laceration; collapsed lung; Plaintiff placed on life support. Stamm’s attorneys used medical illustrations to demonstrate to the jury their client’s injuries and impairments.
The Plaintiff called several very effective medical witnesses, who were: Dr. Raj Rao (orthopaedics), Dr. John Heinrich (orthopaedics), Dr. John Weigelt (trauma surgeon); Dr. William Dzwierzynski (hand surgeon); and Kathy Howell (physical therapist).
The Defense expert also conceded that Defendant was traveling too fast for conditions.
The Gross Verdict of $814,564.91 for the Plaintiff included amounts awarded by the Court for Special damages, including Medical expenses; Lost wages; Past pain and suffering; Past disability and disfigurement; Future pain and suffering; Future disability and disfigurement.
Luis Ibarra, Sr. v. Pactiv Corporation
Gene Hollander settled a catastrophic personal injury case for a record amount. On October 10, 2003, Gene Hollander settled the case of Luis Ibarra, Sr. v. Pactiv Corporation for $3.5 million.
Luis Ibarra, Sr. was an ironworker employed by Midwest Fence Corporation. On April 20, 2001, Mr. Ibarra, along with his two other ironworkers, was installing a security gate at Pactiv Corporation in Wheeling, Illinois. As they were installing the gate, Mr. Ibarra, along with his son, who was the foreman, realized that the gate had to be rotated to snap into an overhead cross beam. As the Ibarras rotated the gate, a gatepost contacted an overhead power line which carried 34,000 volts of electricity.
Mr. Ibarra, Sr. sustained a severe electrical injury and was airlifted to Loyola University Hospital. He sustained second and third degree burns over 60% of his body. Mr. Ibarra, Sr. underwent four surgical procedures involving painful skin grafts. The Plaintiff subsequently was admitted to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for physical and occupational therapy.
Mr. Ibarra, Sr. was unable to work again after the injury. The Plaintiff contended that Pactiv Corporation failed to de-energize the power lines before the Midwest Fence employees came out to the jobsite, and that Pactiv permitted the ironworkers to work within ten feet of an energized power source, in violation of OSHA regulations. Evidence in the case revealed that Pactiv’s Safety Director reviewed a sketch of the jobsite, but failed to consider that the security gate was being installed in close proximity to the overhead power line. The evidence further revealed that the plant’s Technical Manager and Plant Manager were all familiar with OSHA’s “ten foot rule,” yet none of them took any steps to insure the workers’ safety on the jobsite. Plaintiff also contended that Luis Ibarra, Sr. requested that Pactiv re-route truck traffic which was entering the plant as the Ibarras worked, but that Pactiv refused to do so.
In addition to his treating doctors who were set to testify as to his permanent injuries, Gene Hollander retained a number of experts to analyze the liability and damages phases of the case. Mr. Hollander retained a human factors expert who opined that it was difficult to judge the distance of the overhead power line to the gatepost. Mr. Ibarra’s attorney also retained the services of a safety expert who was prepared to testify that Pactiv Corporation was negligent in failing to turn the power off while the ironworkers were preparing to install the gate. Mr. Hollander also retained a vocational rehabilitation expert and economist who were prepared to render opinions as to Mr. Ibarra’s future lost wages.
At the mediation conference, Plaintiff’s counsel utilized a day-in-the-life video of the Plaintiff, a computer animation of the incident, and videotaped excerpts of Defendant’s safety expert. “The admissions of the defense expert, that Pactiv was in partial control of the jobsite, along with testimony which corroborated Dr. Wilcox (the human factors expert), were key in demonstrating the liability issues in this case,” Hollander stated. “The day-in-the-life video also had tremendous impact, especially coupled with the medical illustrations of the surgical procedures which we used,” Hollander stated.
“Though Mr. Ibarra suffered a terrible injury, he is lucky to be alive. He is thankful that he will have sufficient money to compensate him for his loss,” Hollander observed. According to the Cook County Jury Verdict Reporter, a publication which tracks settlements and verdicts in Cook County, Illinois, this was the largest settlement for a single burn victim in the age group of 50 or older.
Swiech v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital
Eugene K. Hollander and Betsey Madden, both of The Law Offices of Eugene K. Hollander, obtained a $1.45 million jury verdict in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, before the Honorable Joan Gottschall, Swiech v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, 98 C 5749. Trial was had from February 20 – February 26, 2001.
Plaintiff Shirley Sweich filed suit under the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, (“ADEA”), and the Americans with Disabilities Act, (“ADA”), alleging that her former employer discriminated against her on the basis of age and disability, causing her to become constructively discharged on October 2, 1996.
Plaintiff was originally hired by Gottlieb in February, 1974. In 1989, she was promoted to the position of payroll supervisor. In 1990, Swiech, then age 45, got a new supervisor, Ellen Chin, then age 26. Plaintiff claimed that after Chin began supervising her, Chin began associating with the younger female employees in the department, and going out to lunch with them and excluding her. Plaintiff also claimed that Chin undermined her authority – when she wanted to write a subordinate up, she was told by Chin that “if you write her up, I will write you up.” Swiech complained to a manager in Human Resources, who in turn, told Chin. Chin subsequently reprimanded Swiech never to go above her head again.
In 1993, Swiech began to see a psychiatrist for depression. In 1993 or 1994, she was diagnosed with lupus.
In early, 1994, Swiech requested an accommodation for her carpal tunnel syndrome, some ergonomic equipment. Chin denied the request. Later that year, due to fatigue from her depression and lupus, Swiech told Chin that she was fatigued, and requested a modification of her work hours. Chin responded, “Yeah, right.”
On January 1, 1995, Swiech was demoted to a payroll clerk position, and had her salary frozen. Chin conceded at trial that Swiech’s salary could have remained frozen for the rest of her natural working life. Her friend in the department, Sherri Kosch-Carbone was promoted above her. Kosch-Carbone repeatedly told Swiech that she should retire, and that Chin was looking to eliminate personnel from the department.
In 1995 and 1996, Swiech did not receive a performance appraisal, in contravention of Gottlieb policy, pursuant to the employee handbook. Swiech had previously received 20 years of excellent written performance reviews. Chin, who was responsible for the reviews from 1990 forward, testified that the failure to review Swiech in 1995 was “an error in judgment,” and that in 1996, it was an oversight. All other employees in the department received reviews, got raises, and were praised.
On October 2, 1996, Swiech was called into a meeting by Chin, and were later joined by Kosch-Carbone, and Brett Wakefield, Vice-President of Human Resources. By all accounts, it was a tense atmosphere. Swiech was accused of making illegal changes to her retirement account, and of subpar performance. Swiech testified that she had received previous clearance from Human Resources to make changes in her retirement plan, and also cleared it with her own CPA. Swiech also requested documentation regarding her alleged subpar performance, and her supervisors could give her none. Swiech requested to have an attorney present, and Wakefield denied the request. Chin apologized to Swiech that there was no documentation and promised to do so in the future. Swiech left the meeting to see her psychiatrist. She did not return to work afterwards. It was stipulated by the parties that as of October 2, 1996, Swiech was unable to work.
On October 22, 1996, Plaintiff returned to Gottlieb to complete various leave papers. Wakefield presented her with a highly accusatory memo, despite Chin’s earlier apology, again alleging that she illegally changed her retirement plan, and stating that there were problems with her performance during the past two years.
At trial, Plaintiff had her treating psychiatrist, Dr. Shoba Sinha, and rheumatologist, Dr. Lynn Meisles, testify on her behalf. Dr. Sinha testified as the permanency of her depression. Evidence showed that Dr. Meisles, a physician with admitting privileges at Gottlieb, dropped the Plaintiff as a patient 30 days before trial, though Swiech had been seeing her for the past 9 years. Both doctors testified that the hostile work environment may or could have exacerbated the depression and lupus, thereby causing her to become disabled. The defense retained Dr. Alan Hirsch, a neurologist and psychiatrist to refute causation, but declined to have him testify at trial.
At trial, the defense contended that the Plaintiff was the cause of intra-departmental friction. Gottlieb, however, could not provide any documentation to substantiate the claim. Gottlieb also flew in Kosch-Carbone, a former employee from Arizona, to testify. While Kosch-Carbone testified that she, too, left Gottlieb in October, 1996, because she “could no longer work with Shirley,” her testimony established that she recently remarried, and that she and her third husband moved to Arizona in 1996. Kosch-Carbone testified that she had not worked since October, 1996, and had only looked for 5 or 6 jobs in the last 4 ½ years. Plaintiff testified that shortly before Kosch-Carbone left, she had her bags packed and confided in the Plaintiff that “she had found a rich old man and would never have to work again.”
The jury found against the Plaintiff on her ADEA claim, but found in her favor as follows on her ADA claims: hostile work environment: $600,000 compensatory damages, $250,000 punitive damages; unlawful failure to reasonably accommodate: $200,000 compensatory damages, $250,000 punitive damages; unlawful constructive discharge based upon a disability: $75,000 compensatory damages, $75,000 punitive damages. The issues of back pay, front pay, and attorney’s fees are reserved for ruling by the Court. The defense has indicated that it will file a post-trial motion.
According to the Cook County Jury Verdict Reporter, the jury’s verdict for compensatory damages was the highest for an ADA case in the Northern District of Illinois, and the third overall highest verdict for an ADA case in Chicago.
The defense was represented by David Ritter and Marlene Igel of Altheimer & Gray in Chicago.
Pregnancy Discrimination and FMLA Act Case
On September 8, 2006, a federal jury in Chicago returned a $380,000 verdict against Rosebud Restaurants in a pregnancy discrimination and Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) case. According to the Cook County Jury Verdict Reporter, this was the second largest verdict in Chicago for a pregnancy and/or FMLA case.
Kristine Buffone, daughter-in-law of Chicago Bears great Doug Buffone, was employed by Rosebud in various capacities for approximately eight years. In September, 2002, Kristine was promoted to Manager of its Theater District Restaurant, located at 70 W. Madison Street. Kristine earned $30,000 annually with benefits. On June 10, 2003, Kristine announced to her supervisor, Yvonne Burke, that she was pregnant. Kristine testified that the Executive Chef at the restaurant stated that “no one wants to watch a pregnant woman while they are eating dinner – that is disgusting.” Burke later told Kristine that she was “getting big,” “getting too big, and that we have to get you out of here.” Kristine also testified that in 2001, Burke referred to two other female employees as having “crazy pregnant lady syndrome.”
Rosebud refused to schedule Kristine after July 7, 2003. In late September, 2003, she inquired of Nancy Krause, Executive Administrator of Human Resources, about insurance and benefits. Krause, who conceded at trial that she was aware of Kristine’s November 3, 2003 due date, told her to write and backdate two letters for July 1, 2003. The first letter requested FMLA leave from July 8, 2003 through September 30, 2003, and the second letter requested an additional month of medical leave, expiring on October 31, 2003 – prior to the time that Kristine was to deliver her baby. Kristine testified that it was her intention to work up until her due date, and then take leave.
On November 17, 2003, Kristine delivered her baby via C-section. Kristine started to call Rosebud corporate and Burke in December 2003, seeking to return to work in either late December, 2003 or early January, 2004. Burke told Kristine in January, 2004 that “they were full,” and that she “chose to have a family, and could not expect Robbie (her male replacement) to step aside.”
Kristine was asked to fill in for several part-time shifts as host and bartender in February, 2004 and did so. Kristine’s last work with the company was on February 14, 2004. The defense contended that Kristine quit in July, 2003. Kristine refuted that theory by offering evidence that she was placed on FMLA in July, 2003, that Defendant paid for her insurance during FMLA, and that an internal e-mail from the Payroll Manager to the Chief Financial Officer in September, 2003 stated that Kristine was on “maternity leave” and that she intended to return to work within six weeks after the delivery of her baby.
Rosebud also argued that Kristine wished to have her FMLA start on July 8, 2003. Kristine countered that argument with her testimony that she wished to work until her due date, and that since her husband was unemployed at that time, she needed the insurance and the benefits to support her family. Kristine’s attorneys used a timeline to aid the jury in understanding how Rosebud disregarded her employment rights.
The jury found in Kristine’s favor on her Pregnancy Discrimination Act Claim and her claim under the FMLA. The jury awarded Kristine $55,000 in back pay damages, $75,000 in compensatory damages, and $250,000 in punitive damages. Since the verdict, the trial judge has denied Rosebud’s Motion for a New Trial. Since the verdict, Judge Suzanne Conlon awarded Kristine an additional $55,000 in liquidated damages, and Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier recommended that Kristine should be awarded attorney’s fees against Rosebud in the sum of $148,000. With the total award likely to exceed $580,000, the case settled for a confidential sum while it was pending on appeal. Eugene Hollander and Paul Ryan, in his first federal jury trial, handled the proceedings.
Age Discrimination Case
Lorraine Sabynicz was a 64 year old factory worker who was terminated from her job. The employer claimed that it was going through a reduction in force and was required to eliminate her job. Ms. Sabynicz subsequently saw that her job was available through a classified advertisement in a local newspaper. She re-applied for her job, but was not re-hired. Ms. Sabynicz filed a lawsuit in the federal court in Chicago alleging that she was discriminated against on the basis of age. A jury returned a verdict in her favor in the sum of $206,000.
For more information, call Eugene K. Hollander at (312) 425-9100, or contact us through this website.