Emanuel’s commitment to changing Water Management hate-filled culture questioned

02/01/2018, 05:35pm
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration was accused Thursday of “talking out of both sides of its mouth” when it comes to changing a hate-filled culture laid bare in racist, sexist and homophobic emails.

Fran Spielman

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration was accused Thursday of “talking out of both sides of its mouth” when it comes to changing a hate-filled culture laid bare in racist, sexist and homophobic emails that triggered a housecleaning in the city’s Department of Water Management.

Attorney Victor Henderson represents six current and former Water Management employees — all African-Americans — who have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Department of Water Management of creating “a hostile and abusive work environment” based on race that includes violence, intimidation and retaliation.

Henderson’s claim that Emanuel is insincere about his commitment to change that hate-filled culture stems from two new taxpayer-funded court filings in the case.

The motions seek to dismiss ousted Water Management Commissioner Barrett Murphy and fired Managing Deputy William Bresnahan as named defendants in the case on grounds that neither man did anything wrong.

“The city is talking out of both sides of its mouth. You’ve got the inspector general saying there’s a culture of racial discrimination. You have City Hall firing the commissioner and others. And on the other hand, it’s delay and deny in the courthouse, taking the exact opposite position like none of this ever happened,” Henderson said.

“If they really didn’t do anything, they shouldn’t have been asked to leave. If they did do something, the city should acknowledge it. . . . What the city is doing is having it both ways — one way politically, the other way legally,” he said.

Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey stressed that the city “does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”

But he said, “Not all allegations made in lawsuits are necessarily meritorious. In this particular instance, there are claims regarding specific employment decisions that do not appear to be supported by the records.”

The motion to dismiss Murphy from the case was filed by former federal prosecutor Vincent Connelly, an attorney at Mayer Brown LLP. In it, Connelly notes that the “hostile work environment claim” against Murphy rests on two emails. The first was written by now-fired Deputy Commissioner Paul Hansen to Murphy in February 2013.

The second email was written by Murphy in August 2015, describing an equation for calculating the circumference of a circle, Connelly wrote.

“There is no allegation in the complaint that Murphy wrote any offensive comments at all. . . . There is no allegation that Murphy wrote anything else, but Hansen responded to this email with offensive comments,” the motion to dismiss states.

“Two offensive emails received and one forwarded in two years is not objectively severe and pervasive conduct by Murphy. Plaintiffs failed to state a claim for hostile work environment against Murphy.”

Connelly noted that in a “single sentence accompanied by a photograph,” the current and former employees alleged they were “subjected to racist images, such as a hangman’s noose in restrooms and Water Department vehicles.” The plaintiffs further claim they were “called names, including the n-word and `you people.’ “

“The complaint contains absolutely no allegation that Murphy, as a supervisor, participated in hanging a noose or in calling the plaintiffs names,” Connelly wrote.

“There is no basis for liability based on direct harassment by Murphy as a supervisor. Nor is there any allegation that Murphy was negligent in remedying harassment by others. Plaintiffs make no allegation that a co-worker hung the noose or that any co-workers called them names,” Connelly wrote. “Plaintiffs do not allege that they reported these incidents or that Murphy ever knew about them. There is no basis for liability against Murphy based on negligence in remedying harassment by co-workers.”

The motion to dismiss Bresnahan from the case was filed by Del Gado Law Group LLC, another firm hired by the city.

Although plaintiffs allege that Bresnahan “received racist emails from Hansen,” the motion states, “There are no allegations that any of the plaintiffs were aware or received these proposed emails.”

Last spring, a housecleaning triggered by the email scandal flushed out Murphy, Bresnahan, Hansen and two other top managers. Murphy’s ouster was a shocker because he and his wife are close friends with Emanuel and his wife, Amy Rule.

Emanuel acknowledged then that Murphy “offered his resignation because he knew that we had to hit a re-set button” at the department at the center of the Hired Truck and city hiring scandals.

Last month, nearly two dozen current and former Water Management employees complained that the same hate-filled culture persists, even after a white commissioner was replaced with an African-American.

Emanuel responded by arguing that it would take Commissioner Randy Conner, who is African-American, a lot longer than six months to change a hate-infested Water Management culture decades in the making. But he categorically denied that nothing has changed.

Illinois Workers’ Compensation Reform shortchanges Workers again January 22, 2017

A change in the rules for workers’ compensation in Illinois is included in a “grand bargain” package of bills Senate President John Cullerton and Minority Leader Christine Radogno are pushing this week to finally get a state budget.

In an interview Thursday with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, Cullerton and Radogno said the workers’ comp bill undoubtedly will be tweaked before final votes in the state Senate and House. We sure hope so. Compromise is essential, but workers’ comp still must deliver on its basic promise — that injured workers get quality health care and fair treatment.

As written, the bill includes enhanced fraud protections and benefit cuts, including further reductions in the amount that medical providers get paid for some types of procedures, limitations on physical therapy and the types of drugs that may be prescribed.

Additional cuts no doubt will be proposed as the bill moves forward. But this is an area where lawmakers must tread carefully. In some other states, benefits have been cut so substantially that some injured employees have been unable to get any medical care. Some seriously injured employees have been ruined financially. If those workers wind up on Social Security Disability Insurance, the cost of workplace injuries has been shifted from employers to taxpayers.

That can’t be allowed to happen in Illinois.

Workers comp is a trade-off. In exchange for giving up the right to sue negligent employers who cause accidents, workers are assured of getting medical care, pay for time when they are off work because of an injury, and compensation for permanent injuries. Any changes in the law should preserve that bedrock deal.

In 2011, Illinois enacted a series of reforms, including a 30 percent reduction in the amounts paid to health care providers, that brought down costs. But those savings largely have yet to show up in lower workers’ compensation insurance premiums for employers.

One way to cut costs without further reducing worker benefits would be to give the Illinois Department of Insurance the authority to ensure workers’ comp insurance companies aren’t getting excessive profits. That’s a safeguard that already exists in many other states.

Setting workers’ comp benefits at a reasonable level can help Illinois’ economic competitiveness. But Illinois shouldn’t expect to have lower workers’ comp costs than its neighbors. Part of the formula for calculating workers’ comp premiums is the total amount of employer payrolls. Because Illinois has higher average incomes than adjoining states, it can’t expect its workers’ comp rates to be lower.

Cullerton and Radogno are pushing for a bipartisan solution to a political impasse that has forced Illinois to stagger along without an annual budget for more than a year and a half. We support that effort. We also trust they can get the job done while preserving a fair workers’ comp system.

Chicago Cop Assaulted allegedly by Water Management Plumber

Cray Cray Po Po Chicago Police.jpg City of Chicago Police Detective Kevin Mullane accused City of Chicago Department of Water Management Plumber and State Inspector Patrick McDonough of roughing him up at the 7700 block of West Clarence on July 30, 2011. Kevin Mullane showed up at a Hearing to tell his side of the story on October 8. 2014. It was a City of Chicago Human Resources Board appeal hearing. A visually shaken Detective Mullane recounted his story. Just prior to his testimony, a City Attorney was furious McDonough was videotaping the Hearing. Patrick McDonough was ordered to stop videotaping despite his permission by the Hearing Board to do so. Some of the witnesses refused to have themselves videotaped for fear of being on YouTube or Chicago Clout. An emergency complaint was put into Lisa Madigan’s States Attorney Office for a ruling. Sarah Pratt, Public Access Counselor, Office of the Attorney General, 500 S. 2nd Street Springfield, Illinois 62706 is fully apprised of the complaint. When questioned, Patrick McDonough said, “the taxpayers of the City of Chicago should not only know what their employees are doing, but also know what the Inspector General, and the Human Resources Board rulings are in these cases. Top Gun Union Attorney John Toomey did a great job defending the accused. I suggest you all enjoy more legal football on November 5, 2014 at 9:00 a.m. Special thanks to Attorney and advocate Rachel Goodstein for the watchful eyes!!!