lawsuit, Atlanta, brewery, racism, EEOC

Chicago Agrees To Pay $5.8 Million To Settle Suit Over Racism In Water Department

The lawsuit alleges the 12 workers 'have been humiliated, harassed, denied opportunities for advancement and additional pay, and threatened daily' by white co-workers and supervisors.

The City of Chicago has tentatively agreed to pay out a $5.8 million settlement to 12 Black employees at the city’s water department over their claims of a racist and toxic workplace culture. The settlement was reached on May 6, almost a month before a trial in federal court was set to begin. The Chicago city council still needs to approve the settlement before it can be finalized. 

As CBS News reported, the lawsuit alleges the 12 workers “have been humiliated, harassed, denied opportunities for advancement and additional pay, and threatened daily” by both white co-workers and supervisors. An attorney for the 12 Black workers, Victor Henderson, told CBS News, “It was plain to anyone who looked that the racism cascaded from the very top of the organization like water travels down a hill. The racism lasted for decades and affected countless Black employees, which raises the question of why the City’s uppermost leaders failed to act. The sad and most obvious answer is that they did not care. Shame on them,” Henderson concluded. 

As the lawsuit states, the white managers in the department “communicated and knowingly condoned a policy to all of the supervisors within the Water Department that African-Americans were to be, or could with impunity be, treated with disdain, deprived of promotions, given less overtime, and harassed.”

The lawsuit also argued that the leaders of the department “established and promoted a pattern and practice of engaging in racially discriminatory remarks and actions against African-American employees,” this included, the lawsuit alleged, the use of the N-word and several other racist terms. The Black employees were also subjected to discipline if they objected to these working conditions. 

According to the lawsuit, the department maintained a kind of system that seemed reminiscent of Jim Crow, “Observing the discriminatory pattern of treatment of African-American employees and hearing the racially derogatory language, other Caucasian employees learned that racially discriminatory behavior would not only be tolerated but that they themselves should engage in such behavior.”

Further cementing this code was a system that forced injured Black workers to return to full-work duty, while injured white workers were allowed to work under a light-duty designation. Injured Black workers would also be forced to retire after exhausting their worker’s compensation benefits at less than full retirement benefits. 

There were also a number of racist emails, uncovered during a 2018 probe conducted by Chicago’s Inspector General, these emails were mostly concerned with President Barack Obama, the Black Lives Matter movement, and Black NASCAR drivers. One email stated, “Obama will be making no more public speeches in Texas… He claims every time he gets up on stage to make a speech, some South Texas cotton farmers start bidding on him.”

Another email, which was sent under the subject line “Black NASCAR Drivers?” listed out ten reasons Black NASCAR drivers wouldn’t work, including “Pistol won’t stay under front seat,” “Engine noise drowns out the rap music,” and “They keep trying to carjack Dale Earnhardt Jr.”

Yet another email between two city workers stated “I really need to get out in the woods again if not to just be with the critters, but also to eradicate all the BLM idiots and all the bull**** from the idiots and criminals that back these.”

A City Law department spokeswoman declined to provide CBS News with a comment on the settlement and it is currently unclear when the matter will be voted on by the Chicago city council. 

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