Emails May Sink Chicago’s Water Department

When someone experiences discrimination at work – whether on the basis of his race, gender, age, sexual orientation – the victim should go to the company’s leadership to address and remedy the discrimination. But what happens when the discrimination originates with the very leadership who is supposed to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place?

According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, the Tribune had obtained copies of over 1,300 emails from the Chicago Water Department and found that many of those emails contained highly offensive, derogatory and discriminatory content and language that was not only entirely inappropriate for the workplace but also constituted an outright violation of state and federal employment laws.

Many of the emails contained racist, sexist and homophobic messages. For instance, the Tribune found emails containing “an image of a Ku Klux Klan ‘scarecrow’ amid a watermelon field, a picture of a naked woman on a beach and off-color comments about gay people,” among other offensive messages. Perhaps even more troubling than the content itself is the concern that these emails and their discriminatory and offensive nature was completely condoned by leadership. Not only were the emails sent and received by supervisors, including recently ousted department Commissioner, but there is no evidence that any supervisors did anything to stop these emails from being written, and circulated. Moreover, “in at least one case, [Commissioner] Murphy forwarded an offensive email to another department employee.”

The investigation that originally revealed these emails ultimately led to several resignations of department officials.

After those resignations, in early June 2017, the Tribune obtained additional emails that included racially insensitive, anti-Islamic and sexist messages. This discovery caused the department to provide all of its managers and supervisors with additional training on federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

This discovery of the racist, sexist and homophobic emails was the foundation for a federal race discrimination lawsuit that was filed by African-American employees of the Chicago water department, who claim that they were denied promotions, subjected to racial slurs and sexually harassed because of their race.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if similar lawsuits are filed alleging sexual harassment, gender discrimination and discrimination based on sexual orientation. Only time will tell – but it seems that the City’s efforts to obtain resignations from these wrongdoing higher-ups are an example of “too little, too late.”

If you believe that you are being sexually harassed at work, or are the victim of any kind of discrimination at work, please call the Law Office of Jeffrey Friedman, P.C. at 312-357-1431 for a free consultation.

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