Lawsuit Follows Shake-Up At Chicago Water Department DOWM

(CBS) — Seven employees of Chicago’s Water Department filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday morning, claiming they were denied promotions, subjected to racial claims and sexually harassed because of their race.

CBS 2’s Sandra Torres has details.

“I feel less than the man that I am when I’m talked to disrespectfully,” says 57-year-old Derrick Edmond.

He refers to the treatment he’s received while working at the south water purification plant. He’s among the Water Department employees in the suit who say, in part, “black employees are humiliated, harassed, and threatened daily by co-workers.”

“In 2017, many black people at the Water Department still cannot go to work and make a living without being subject to a hostile work environment,” Edmond says.

Edmond has been working as an operating engineer at the plant for over 30 years.

In the lawsuit, he claims:

-supervisors denied him promotion opportunities because of his race.


-they called him the “N” word and referred to him as “you people.”

-he was disciplined in retaliation for speaking out against his treatment in the department.

“All of their stories are consistent from top to bottom,” attorney Vick Anderson says.

In May, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Water Department Commissioner Barrett Murphy after an investigation uncovered racist and sexist emails.

Attorneys say employees now want justice.

“This lawsuit falls on the heels of our mayor of our city having to acknowledge that the culture of the Water Department is indeed hostile and abusive,” William C. Martin says. “This is the next step in this admission process.”

Two plaintiffs are women and five are men; attorneys say at least 30 others have reached out to them with similar claims.

A spokesperson for Emanuel issued this prepared statement in response to the lawsuit:

“The City of Chicago has no tolerance for discrimination of employees in any form, and while we cannot comment on this lawsuit specifically, the City does not take any allegations of this nature lightly. The Mayor recently appointed a new commissioner and is committed to providing the support and resources necessary to implement changes and address issues at the Department of Water Management.”

Patrick McDonough, a City of Chicago Department of Water Management employee has complained of discrimination to two decades. Frank Coconate joins the lawsuit.

Black workers denied promotions, called racial slurs at Chicago water department: lawsuit

African-American 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 months-long 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 discriminatory 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. Conner is named as a defendant in the lawsuit because of his new role, but there are no specific allegations in the 40-page filing that accuse him of any specific wrongdoing.

Conner was appointed by Emanuel to replace Barrett Murphy, a friend of the mayor’s who resigned his post as the result of a city inspector general’s investigation that turned up the racist and sexist emails. William Bresnahan, who was managing deputy commissioner, and Paul Hansen, who was a district superintendent, also resigned.
The Tribune earlier this month first reported that Hansen sent to Murphy and Bresnahan emails in early 2014 that included anti-Islamic and racially insensitive language.
Hansen also sent an email that included sexist language as he made fun of a colleague in response to a lengthy message that colleague sent to Hansen about a frozen water main.
In addition, Thomas J. Durkin, the general foreman of plumbers, and John “Jack” Lee Jr., another district superintendent, later were replaced on administrative leave pending disciplinary decisions as a result of the probe.