A woman police officer in Chicago who won $300,000 in a sex discrimination and harassment lawsuit may never see her award because of income taxes required by federal tax laws. Last December, Officer Cynthia Spina was awarded $3 million by a federal jury in her lawsuit against the Forest Preserve District of Cook County – $2 million more than she requested. However, in May Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys reduced the award to $300,000 because he said that the original amount was excessive. Meanwhile, federal tax laws require that Spina pay $99,000 on the award as well as taxes on her $850,000 in attorneys’ fees – even though the attorneys’ fees are paid by the defendant (which in this case is Cook County). Spina’s lawyer, Monica McFadden is also taxed on these attorneys’ fees.
“She loses every cent that she won plus she has to come up with another $100,000,” said Penny Harrington, co-founder and chair of the National Center for Women and Policing, who served as an expert witness in Spina’s trial. “This is outrageous. Why would anyone go to court?” Spina’s tax bill is the result of a 1996 tax law that makes awards for some nonphysical injuries taxable. In addition, many states designate lawyers’ fees to plaintiffs making the award and the fees taxable. Legislation has been introduced in both branches of the US Congress to restore real remedies for discrimination cases by eliminating taxes on emotional distress awards. The Civil Rights Tax Relief Act, introduced by Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-OH) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), has been referred to committee in both the House and the Senate.
Harrington noted that more than 60 percent of women in law enforcement surveyed by the National Center for Women and Policing report sexual harassment in their workplace. Spina was the victim of severe sexual harassment and discrimination, and subsequent retaliation after she filed a complaint with EEOC. Harrington said that Spina endured “one of the worst examples of harassment and discrimination of women officers that I have seen since the days before the EEOC rulings on sexual harassment were issued.” Late last month, an Illinois court ordered a permanent injunction against the Cook County department prohibiting it from causing, encouraging, condoning, or permitting sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation against its female employees. The department must also develop a comprehensive sexual harassment and discrimination policy, and establish a zero-tolerance policy for violators. For more information on sexual harassment against women police officers visit www.womenandpolicing.com.