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Unsubstantiated rumors don’t add up to liability

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in Human Resources

Public employers aren’t necessarily liable if they fail to respond to vague rumors about employee misconduct.

Recent case: In 2001, a 16-year-old fire cadet was sexually abused by village of Thornton Fire Chief John Klaczak.

The former cadet sued, alleging that the village was responsible for damages because the village president knew Klaczak was a threat to minors, yet continued to allow him to work with youth. The former cadet cited an anonymous phone call that accused Klaczak of molesting another boy. The village president did nothing.

The 7th Circuit said one official’s knowledge of an unsubstantiated rumor wasn’t enough to make the municipality liable. (Wragg v. Village of Thornton, et al., No. 08-3766, 7th Cir., 2010)

Note: Klaczak eventually pleaded guilty and served a prison sentence.

Advice: Although Thornton prevailed in this case, it’s always best to investigate allegations that an employee has broken the law.

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