A popular Hickory Hills, Ill., banquet facility and country club will pay up to $690,000 to settle two lawsuits, charging sex and race discrimination and retaliation, brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

Federal District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer has entered a consent decree resolving the two lawsuits against Chateau Del Mar, Inc. and Hickory Properties, Inc., known as Hickory Hills Country Club. Under the decree, the defendants are required pay $590,000, including attorney's fees, to a class of women who endured a sexually hostile work environment and retaliation, and, in addition, up to another $100,000 to African American applicants who were denied hire because of their race.

In the government's first suit, filed on March 25, 2008 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC alleged that the principal and manager of the facility sexually harassed a class of women employees over a period of years and refused to hire African American applicants. Female employees were called derogatory names and belittled as well as enduring sexual advances and, in some instances, physical assaults, the EEOC said.

Shortly after three of the women filed their own private federal lawsuit for sex discrimination on October 24, 2007 (captioned Curry, Knable, & Raddatz v. Chateau Del Mar, Inc., Steven Gianakas, and Hickory Properties, Inc., No. 07 C 6021), Chateau Del Mar and Steven Gianakas sued them in Illinois state court. Their seven-count complaint alleged a wide variety of claimed wrongs, including, but not limited to, physical and mental injuries, tripping and pushing Gianakas, breach of fiduciary duty, and destroying property. (Chateau Del Mar and Steven P. Gianakas v. Knable, et al, Circuit Court of Cook County No. 2007L012463.)

An EEOC investigation determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that the women were sued because they exercised their federally protected rights to protest discrimination. The circuit court of Cook County dismissed the lawsuit Chateau Del Mar and Gianakas had filed. Thereafter, the EEOC filed a second lawsuit on September 22, 2008 against Chateau Del Mar for retaliation. The three individual private plaintiffs intervened in the EEOC's retaliation case, and all three suits were docketed as related cases before U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer.

This serious and ongoing harassment of women was unconscionable enough. Then these defendants made a bad situation worse by punishing the victims for engaging in protected activity, said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. This kind of retaliation is plainly illegal, even if it is cleverly disguised as a supposedly legitimate lawsuit.

Both of the federal suits were resolved by a consent decree signed June 16 by Judge Pallmeyer and transmitted to the parties June 19. In addition to providing for monetary relief to victims, the decree will enjoin Chateau Del Mar and Hickory Hills from engaging in sex or race discrimination or retaliation, and require that they hire an independent monitor to accept and investigate charges of discrimination and train all of their employees on federal anti-discrimination laws. Further, Chateau Del Mar and Hickory Hills will be required to place an advertisement in the Southtown Star newspaper seeking job applicants who were rejected based on their race from March 6, 2005 to the present. EEOC will determine who is eligible for relief.

These defendants have marketed themselves as a venue for family celebrations such as weddings and receptions and have enjoyed considerable patronage from the African American community, said John Hendrickson, regional attorney of the EEOC's Chicago District Office. So the instances of discrimination in this case were particularly troubling. But we are cautiously optimistic that the consent decree spells the beginning of the end of on-the-job sex and race discrimination at Chateau Del Mar and Hickory Hills.

EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Diane Smason, who with Trial Attorney June Calhoun litigated the case, said, The decree itself provides for monetary relief for victims of sex discrimination, and we now look forward to delivering appropriate compensation to individuals who come forward and identify themselves as victims of race discrimination.

The cases were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and are captioned EEOC v. Chateau Del Mar, Inc. and Hickory Properties, Inc., No. 08 C 1720, and EEOC, Curry, Knable & Raddatz v. Chateau Del Mar, Inc., No. 08 C 5388. The individual plaintiffs were represented by Timothy Nolan of the Nolan Law Office.

Chateau Del Mar and Hickory Hills Country Club are part of the Hickory Hills Resort, which also includes Condessa Del Mar, another banquet facility in Alsip, Ill., and PGN Fun, a miniature golf course and arcade, also in Hickory Hills.