CITY HALL — The Finance Committee approved a $560,000 settlement Friday to close a suit charging discrimination and a hostile work environment in the Department of Transportation — a situation that at least one alderman called "outrageous."
The class-action federal suit, filed by 37 city employees, accused CDOT supervisor Joseph Annunzio of using racist language and acting in a racist manner in 2005 and 2006. The initial complaint, filed three years ago, charged that Annunzio used the N-word and phrases like "mambo gorilla" to describe African-American employees, also using the term "black bitch" to refer to women. It also accused him of threatening employees by pretending to belong to the Ku Klux Klan.
The suit also charged that Annunzio assigned minority employees to work only high-crime areas on the South Side, which in turn meant they were less likely to receive promotions.
"We deny any wrongdoing," said Leslie Darling, first assistant corporation counsel. Yet she also acknowledged, "There is significant risk of an adverse jury verdict" in the case.
According to Darling, David Hoffman, then the city's inspector general, found grounds to terminate Annunzio in April 2007, and he was fired the following month, although that case dragged through the courts for years before the firing was affirmed.
Aldermen, however, were ready to believe the charges.
"Outrageous conduct is to say the least," said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd).
"Old dogs don't change their way," said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th). "So this must have been going on a long, long time."
Human Relations Deputy Commissioner Judith Marrs revealed Annunzio worked for the city 15 years, from 1992 to 2007.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) questioned Darling on other city officials named in the suit, to make sure nothing was being "swept under the rug."
According to Darling, the plaintiffs originally sought $2.7 million in damages.
"I think we're getting away pretty economically," Tunney said.
The committee approved the settlement by acclimation, and it will go to the full City Council for final approval Wednesday.