Wilmette, News

Lawsuit seeks $5 million while alleging park district forced out and mistreated employee

The husband of a former Wilmette Park District employee is suing the district and its executive director for unfair and “abusive” treatment that negatively impacted the health of his wife, Elizabeth “Liz” Cox, who died in December 2023.

The Record North Shore has been investigating the allegations made in the lawsuit and related activity within the park district for nearly five months. On Wednesday, June 19, the Wilmette Park District issued a public statement on the lawsuit, which was filed on May 1. Because of the statement and questions from the community about its meaning, The Record is publishing a summary of the lawsuit (below) as it completes its reporting.

The lawsuit requests damages of at least $5 million.

According to the suit, Executive Director Steve Wilson and the park district in the spring of 2023 forced Elizabeth Cox out of her position as superintendent of human resources and risk management while she was investigating an inappropriate relationship between Wilson and a subordinate.

Cox allegedly waived a training requirement for a colleague in December 2022, and Wilson and the park district began investigating her and the waiver in January 2023, urging her to resign or face termination in March 2023, according to the suit.

All the while, Cox was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She was first diagnosed in August 2022, underwent a mastectomy in January 2023, left the district in May 2023 and died in December 2023, the lawsuit says.

Upon Cox’s departure from the park district, it is alleged that Wilson declined to provide Cox with unused sick time, as he reportedly had with other departing employees. The suit also alleges Wilson and park district staff mishandled the communication and transfer of health insurance and life insurance documentation.

Ongoing “distress” caused by the park district’s behavior allegedly caused Cox to begin receiving therapeutic and medicinal treatment for anxiety and contributed to her hospitalization preceding her death in December 2023. It also impacted her ability to renew a life insurance policy, among other things, the lawsuit claims.

While declining to comment on “confidential personnel matters or pending litigation,” the park district says in its statement:

“The park district, and Steve Wilson, vehemently deny the allegations in the complaint and look forward to providing facts in the appropriate venue for such disputes.”

The Record is awaiting responses to a number of questions sent to both the Wilmette Park Board and Wilson. During its investigation, The Record has spoken with several current and former park district employees and has acquired numerous public documents. A more detailed story will be published at TheRecordNorthShore.org once the responses are received.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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