By Matt O’Connor
Tribune staff reporter

Published June 6, 2003

A former Cook County sheriff’s supervisor alleged Thursday in a federal lawsuit that she was demoted in 2001 after she refused to buy or sell political fundraising tickets on Sheriff Michael Sheahan’s behalf.

The civil racketeering suit contends the department enforced a policy of discipline by regularly transferring, reassigning or forcing to resign other employees who didn’t contribute to Sheahan’s political coffers.

A spokeswoman for Sheahan denied that employees are punished if they don’t make financial contributions to the sheriffs re-election efforts.

The suit by Gayler Cobbs, an 18-year veteran of the office, said she held a high-ranking post in the department’s boot camp, described as a prestigious assignment by her attorney, Dana L. Kurtz.

According to the suit, Cobbs’ boss at the boot camp in February or March 2001 handed her tickets to a Sheahan political fundraiser and instructed her to sell them.

Cobbs returned the tickets to the boss, telling him, “I don’t sell tickets,” the suit alleged.

In April or May 2001, another superior approached Cobbs about buying tickets to another Sheahan political fundraiser, the suit said.

When Cobbs rebuffed him, the superior retorted, “Where is your loyalty?” the suit said. He then warned Cobbs that her refusal wouldn’t look good in her record, the suit alleged.

In June 2001 Cobbs was demoted to sergeant, several ranks below her boot camp post, and transferred to Cook County Jail at a cut in pay, Kurtz said.

The suit alleged that Sheahan’s campaign committee, Citizens for Sheahan, extorts “mandatory” political contributions from sheriffs employees.

The suit cites similar litigation filed last October by Denis Micnerski, another department veteran who alleged he was demoted from a management position after he objected to paying a requested $500 to Citizens for Sheahan.

“You should really give something,” that lawsuit quoted a high-ranking management official as warning Micnerski last
summer.

Micnerski’s lawsuit also alleged that Sheahan has a highly organized campaign apparatus that collects hundreds of thousands of dollars in “mandatory” political contributions from dozens of employees.

Sally Daly, Sheahan’s spokeswoman, said Cobbs was demoted for poor performance.

Last year Daly also characterized Micnerski as a disgruntled employee who sued in retribution for being passed over for a promotion.

Daly said Cobbs had previously filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in which she contended the demotion was the result of sex discrimination.

Thursday’s lawsuit also contended the sheriffs department has a policy of discrimination against women and AfricanAmericans.

Cobbs is an African-American.

“I think she’s attempting to take another bite at the apple in hopes of profiting from this,” Daly said of Cobbs’ claim in the suit that her demotion was political retribution.

Daly also denied that Sheahan tries to raise funds from sheriff’s employees at the workplace.

The U.S. District Court suit names Sheahan, Sheahan’s campaign committee, Cook County, the sheriffs department and several other department higher-ups as defendants and seeks unspecified damages.

Copyright© 2003, Chicago Tribune