Village faces discrimination lawsuit

Husband of firefighter claims work conditions caused 25-year-old to take her life

The Village of Hinsdale and Lt. Tom McCarthy of the Hinsdale Fire Department are the subject of a discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of Nicole Hladik, a firefighter who took her own life in July 2020.

The suit, filed June 28 in Illinois Northern District Court by Hladik’s widower Daniel Zaborowski, alleges that Hladik was subject to discrimination and harassment based on her gender.

“At all relevant times, Hladik was the only active female firefighter working for the Hinsdale Fire Department,” the suit states. “In fact, Hladik was the third female ever to become a firefighter for the Hinsdale Fire Department in its over 100-year history.”

According to the suit, after Hladik was hired by the department in July 2019, she regularly met and exceeded expectations during the first six months of her probation as a member of the Gold Division under the supervision of Capt. Mike Neville and Lt. Andy Ziemer. When she was reassigned to the Black Division in January 2020, McCarthy became her supervisor.

“Immediately upon her transfer to the Black Division, Hladik experienced constant, unwelcomed emotional torment, hostility, hazing and abuse amounting to sexual discrimination and harassment by defendants,” the suit states.

McCarthy is alleged to have publicly ridiculed Hladik in an attempt to make her appear inept before her male co-workers and repeatedly told her she should quit. During the final two weeks of her probation, she was subjected to a performance improvement plan with the intent to fail her from her probation, the suit claims.

In the final words she wrote before her death, Hladik said work has destroyed her, the suit claims.

“I cannot take one more single day,” she wrote.

Other village personnel allegedly knew of the harassment and hostile work environment but failed to take steps to stop or mitigate it, according to the suit.

Following Hladik’s death, the village hired an independent investigator to try to understand the circumstances leading up to it. The investigation included internal interviews and a review of relevant records, according to a statement released by the village.

“While Ms. Hladik’s death is a terrible loss for everyone, the evidence and interviews indicate that Ms. Hladik’s work environment was consistent with the high standards that all employees are held to by the village,” the statement reads. “The village is prepared to unequivocally refute any allegations to the contrary and aggressively defend the lawsuit recently filed by the Hladik family.”

The investigator made multiple requests to interview Hladik’s family, but those requests were denied, the statement reads.

“On behalf of the Village of Hinsdale, as we approach the one-year anniversary of the passing of Nicole Hladik, we again extend our condolences to her family and friends,” the statement reads. “She was a member of the village’s firefighter family and we miss her as well.”

Zaborowski, represented by James Pullos of Clifford Law Offices, is seeking a jury trial and compensatory damages in an amount to be determined, economic damages (back pay wages, future wages and fringe benefits), attorney’s fees and other relief. A spokeswoman for Clifford Law Offices said the firm has no comment on the case.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean