OIG’s Follow-Up Finds That the Chicago Fire Department Has Implemented Corrective Actions for Its Policies and Practices Related to Discrimination and Sexual Harassment, but Still Needs to Implement Tailored Training

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) has completed a follow-up to its April 2021 audit of the Chicago Fire Department’s (CFD) policies and practices related to discrimination and sexual harassment. Based on the Department’s responses, OIG concludes that CFD has overall worked towards implementing corrective actions related to the audit findings.

The purpose of the 2021 audit was to determine whether CFD’s discrimination and sexual harassment prevention, reporting, and training policies and practices complied with relevant laws and regulations. The Department—which is 91% male and 64% White—has been a defendant in multiple discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits. This history raised concerns about whether its internal culture, which typically lags behind changes to laws and policies, negatively affects the experience of members who are not among its prevailing demographics.

Our audit found that while CFD’s policies comply with baseline federal, state, and local laws, the policies themselves, as well as the complaint process and the training used to enforce and promote them, were insufficient to meet the environmental challenges posed by a command and control emergency service operation like CFD. Our audit determined that the Department’s culture and workplace environment may make some members vulnerable to discrimination and/or sexual harassment. Additionally, we determined that CFD’s process for scheduling interviews for members who made formal complaints about discrimination or harassment placed them at risk of retaliation and potentially discouraged them from reporting misconduct. In fact, according to the results of OIG’s survey, “fear of retaliation” and “concern that speaking up would hurt one’s career” were two of the most common reasons members chose not to file discrimination or harassment complaints. OIG made a number of recommendations, which CFD agreed with and stated that it would implement.

In February 2022, OIG inquired about corrective actions taken by CFD in response to the audit. Based on the Department’s follow-up response, OIG concludes that CFD has fully implemented one of five corrective actions, substantially implemented two others, partially implemented a fourth, and not implemented the fifth. Specifically, CFD has issued a general order with specific procedures to ensure that complaints of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are directed to the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Division rather than to the Internal Affairs (IAD) Division; assigned diversity, equity, and inclusion officer duties to an existing staff member (since the current budget did not permit for a new position); and created and implemented internal policies and initiatives meant to bolster the Department’s “zero-tolerance policy” towards sexual harassment and discrimination by its members, which includes the “Honor Our House” initiative and the adoption of a Core Values Statement. CFD stated that the “Honor Our House” initiative will include educational opportunities, training, and reminders about the Department’s stance on discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. The Core Values Statement institutes guiding principles that intend to “lead all members to be a positive presence amongst each other and the communities” the Department serves. Additionally, CFD stated that it worked with the Chicago Police Department’s Investigative Development Group to develop training on trauma-informed concepts for IAD investigators. However, the Department still needs to fully implement a CFD-specific training on discrimination and sexual harassment to supplement the EEO training its members already receive.

The follow-up report can be found on OIG’s website.

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The mission of the independent and non-partisan City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (OIG) is to promote economy, effectiveness, efficiency, and integrity by identifying corruption, waste, and mismanagement in City government. OIG is a watchdog for the taxpayers of the City and has jurisdiction to conduct investigations and audits into most aspects of City government. If you see corruption, fraud, or waste of any kind, we need to hear from you. For more information, visit our website at: www.igchicago.org.