City Of Chicago Under Heat For Civil Rights Violations
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recommended a full review of city policies and additional training for city staff and those at the Water Department in response to properly “train, supervise and discipline” supervisors and as part of an attempt to head off a potential lawsuit. But, his efforts proved fruitless under the heat of the allegations already circulating.
This past week, two former and four current Water Management employees had already filed a federal lawsuit against the department and city accusing them of “a hostile and abusive work environment based on race that includes violence, intimidation, retaliation, constructive discharge against the plaintiffs and the class of similarly situated former and current” workers. The plaintiffs, who include former employees Vicki Hill and Adebola Fegdemi and current colleagues Craig Robinson, Derrick Edmond, Eddie Cooper Jr. and Robert T. Laws Jr. (all African American) claim they were forced to deal with “deliberate acts of discrimination during their employment based on their race” and seek “unpaid wages, liquidated damages, attorney fees and declaratory and injunctive relief.”
Five high-level city managers also recently took heat for sending offensive emails, including managing deputy William Bresnahan, district superintendent Paul Hansen and commissioner Barrett Murphy, along with two others who resigned in late June, but the city has “done nothing to remedy” their misdeeds, according to the lawsuit. A month-long watchdog investigation uncovered the emails, and inspector General Joe Ferguson disclosed the racist, sexist and homo-phobic messages circulating the Department.
The plaintiffs claim to have worked amid a “tapestry of hostility” that impacted all areas of their jobs. The women contend that they were sexually harassed and called “bitches and whores,” and racial slurs issued by “non-black managers and employees” including “the n-word” and “you people” were handed out on a daily basis. They were even “violently attacked and intimidated” and were regularly denied promotions and transfers. “Yes, I’ve heard the N-word repeatedly,” 62-year-old African-American Michael Outley, an assistant chief operating engineer, said, adding, “racism is systemic in all parts” of the Water Department.
Anyone who had the courage to file a complaint was met with “unfair, arbitrary and capricious” consequences despite the fact that Law Department spokesperson Bill McCaffrey issued a statement that city officials have “no tolerance for discrimination of employees in any form”. He added that they do not “take any allegations of this nature lightly.”
“This lack of training, supervision and discipline fosters a climate in the ranks…that, if an individual’s rights are violated, they do not have to report it, can look the other way and maintain a code of silence,” according to the lawsuit. “This comfort, along with the persistent and defiant code of silence, motivate and bolsters the open and notorious, hostile and abusive work environment based on race and sex created and proliferated in the department.”
The city held a confirmation hearing last week in which the new Water Management Commissioner Randy Conner said that he would “change the culture” of the department. Under the heat of the allegations, Mayor Emanuel has stated he has entrusted Conner with “the support and resources necessary to implement changes and address issues”.