Campton Hills awards $40K severance package for fired permit clerk

Debra Lupie: ‘I was working in a hostile, toxic work environment’

The Village of Campton Hills recently  approved paying Debra Lupie $40,000 in a settlement agreement. She says former administrators at village hall created a hostile toxic work environment and that she was not terminated for cause.

CAMPTON HILLS – Seven months after she was fired, Campton Hills trustees unanimously approved a $40,000 severance package for Debra Lupie, a former building permit clerk.

Lupie was the building permit clerk for almost four years from March 4, 2019, until she was fired Feb. 15, 2023, earning about $43,000.

A letter from former village administrator Denise Burchard to Lupie stated she was being fired based on “evidence regarding misconduct … and your status as an at-will employee, it was determined that termination of your employment was in the best interest of the village.”

The misconduct alleged was Lupie used her village email to “challenge a coworker,” according to a letter from Burchard to then village president Michael Tyrrell and trustees about her firing.

“Her village email chain to a person outside the village organization shows that she has called another employee’s contacts to dig up dirt and discredit said employee,” Burchard’s letter stated without naming the other employee. “Debi also explains in that email chain that she is planning to contact that employee’s past employer for more information to present to a candidate running for village office.”

Burchard’s letter states being involved in the election and supporting a specific candidate “is specifically prohibited in the village’s employee manual and is cause for dismissal.”

Lupie said she used her village email to complain about working conditions with a former employee who also left because of the atmosphere at Village Hall, but denied being involved in the election.

“Within a week of Dorothea [Stipetic] being hired at Village Hall, she was at my desk swearing at me, saying, ‘I know what you are doing,’ ” Lupie said. “I had no idea she thought I was campaigning for Barbara [Wojnicki]. I said, ‘Dory, I don’t know what you are talking about.’ I cried in the bathroom.”

Stipetic was the executive assistant to Burchard.

Wojnicki defeated incumbent Tyrrell for village president in the April 4 consolidated election.

The Village Board voted unanimously to fire Stipetic and not to renew Burchard’s employment contract at its Sept. 19 meeting. No public official would comment about the firings. Stipetic and Burchard also would not comment.

Work history, appeal letters

Lupie provided her employment reviews from 2019 to 2021 in which she received the highest ratings for exemplary performance or exceeding department standards from former village administrator Ron Searl.

“A remarkably hard worker and goes beyond in ways many employees would not consider,” Searl’s review said about Lupie. “Have received many positive comments and accolades on Debi’s helpful, friendly and cheerful attitude. It rubs off on everyone! Debi is extremely adaptable and can communicate effectively with different types of personalities.”

The Village of Campton Hills recently  approved paying Debra Lupie $40,000 in a settlement agreement. She says former administrators at village hall created a hostile toxic work environment and that she was not terminated for cause.

In her appeal letters to officials Feb. 17 and May 5, Lupie wrote that she asked for more time to hire an attorney to represent her at what she thought was a disciplinary hearing that never happened. Instead, Burchard handed her a termination letter when she arrived, according to her letter.

“It became apparent she intended to fire me from the beginning and never perform a thorough investigation of the charges for disciplinary action,” Lupie’s letter stated.

Her letter acknowledged she was wrong to use the village email instead of her personal email.

“I never even thought about the communication being in violation of a village policy since I was corresponding with a former employee who experienced the same unhealthy work environment,” Lupie wrote. “If you review my emails, I believe you will determine that I was working in a hostile, toxic work environment.”

Lupie said she didn’t remember ever getting the personnel manual, internet, email and computer use and technology policies.

She also asked that the reason for her termination not be listed “for cause” so she could collect unemployment.

The settlement agreement states it will no longer contest Lupie’s claims for unemployment benefits.

She said she still is looking for a job.

Employment law

Lupie’s May 5 letter advised officials that she reviewed employment law on her own online without an attorney.

“I believe I can prove there was a toxic work environment at Village Hall and that my employment with the village of Campton Hills was wrongfully terminated because I did not receive due process, there is no proof I ever received the email policy of which I was accused of violating and was never disciplined properly or given a reasonable amount of time to hire representation to attend a meeting with the administrator and the village attorney,” Lupie wrote.

“I believe I have enough evidence to win the case. … The work environment at Village Hall for myself and others was toxic and unhealthy,” she wrote.

Village President Wojnicki did not respond to voicemail messages seeking comment.

Village attorney Carmen Forte said in an email that, “As these issues concern personnel matters, the village will not be commenting on them.”

The Kane County Chronicle has Freedom of Information Act requests pending at Campton Hills regarding the report of an internal investigation of conditions at village hall and other documents.

“The village is currently reviewing your recent FOIA requests and will respond to them soon,” Forte’s email said.

In an email, Burchard wrote that “my professional obligation prevents me from saying specifically why this employee [Lupie] was terminated.”

“Suffice to say that there were significant violations of the employee personnel manual,” Burchard’s email said. “The notion of a toxic work environment is an excuse for what actually occurred.”

‘I just have no voice’

The string of emails from May 2022 to January of this year were between Lupie and former village treasurer Rebekah Flakus, commiserating about Burchard and Stipetic.

Flakus resigned September 2022 after almost four years at the village.

“Well, I did cry the whole way home,” Lupie wrote Aug. 30, 2022, in an email about discrepancies in overtime and comp time. “I wish I could afford to just walk about. … I am crying again now because I just have no voice and really can’t even stand up for myself.”

In an Aug. 31, 2022, email, Lupie wrote to Flakus, “I think stuff is being made up, but cant fight that either. Guess I keep my mouth shut. Oh, I hope I survive this. WILL YOU?”

Flakus responded with, “I do agree we need to watch our backs and we can’t even chat by your desk because twice now comments have been made to me that I wasn’t given information because I was talking with you.”

“I loved that job,” said Flakus, who now works as the finance director at Campton Township. “I complained many times about the constant conflict and how uncomfortable I was. … It overwhelmed me and was affecting my personal life.”

In an email, Stipetic wrote, “Reports of a toxic work environment were created by the village to provide a basis to terminate my employment because I cooperated with Illinois State Police investigations.”

Stipetic was referring to Police Chief Steven Millar, who was put on paid administrative leave July 6 because of a State Police investigation.

Through his attorney, Millar called being placed on leave “attempts to assassinate his character and impugn his integrity.”

Millar is still on leave. Millar’s attorney did not respond to a request for an update on his status.