Suit claims black work­ers de­nied pro­mo­tions, called racial slurs

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Nation - By Hal Dardick

CHICAGO — AfricanAmer­i­can em­ploy­ees of the Chicago wa­ter depart­ment rou­tinely were de­nied pro­mo­tions, sub­jected to racial slurs and sex­u­ally ha­rassed be­cause of their race, ac­cord­ing to a lawsuit filed Thurs­day that could fur­ther roil a depart­ment that’s be­come a racially charged prob­lem for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The lawsuit, filed in fed­eral dis­trict court, comes weeks af­ter a lead­er­ship shakeup at the Depart­ment of Wa­ter Man­age­ment as a month­s­long watch­dog probe that fer­reted out racist and sex­ist emails shared among depart­ment su­per­vi­sors.

The suit was filed on be­half of seven cur­rent and for­mer em­ploy­ees of the depart­ment, and it seeks class-ac­tion sta­tus, which if granted could ex­pand its scope. The em­ploy­ees al­leged they were de­nied pro­mo­tions and trans­fers, given less-de­sir­able work as­sign­ments, ha­rassed and wrongly fired in some cases be­cause of their race.

It fur­ther states that depart­ment work­ers rou­tinely used racial slurs or racially charged phrases, in­clud­ing the n-word and “you peo­ple,” to re­fer to black em­ploy­ees, ac­cord­ing to the lawsuit. “Black fe­male em­ploy­ees are called bitches and whores on a reg­u­lar ba­sis,” the filing reads.

And when they filed com­plaints about a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment, they were “sub­jected to un­fair, ar­bi­trary and capri­cious dis­ci­pline for speak­ing out,” the lawsuit al­leges. Depart­ment of­fi­cials “have done noth­ing to rem­edy the hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment,” it adds.

The lawsuit asks for a judge to rule that depart­ment of­fi­cials vi­o­lated fed­eral fair la­bor laws, bar fur­ther dis­crimi- na­tory con­tact, and pro­vide lost wages and back pay to the al­legedly harmed em­ploy­ees.

City of­fi­cials did not have an im­me­di­ate re­sponse to the lawsuit.

A day be­fore it was filed, Emanuel and the City Coun­cil were singing the praises of newly ap­pointed wa­ter depart­ment Com­mis­sioner Randy Conner, an African Amer­i­can man from the South Side who was pro­moted amid the shakeup and con­firmed by al­der­men Wed­nes­day

JOHN J. KIM/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Peo­ple walk past City Hall on West Ran­dolph Street, May 24, 2013, in Chicago.

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