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Racism And Sexism Rampant At Water Department, Employee Lawsuit Claims

By Heather Cherone | June 29, 2017 1:24pm | Updated on June 30, 2017 11:36am
 Rahm Emanuel fired Water Department Commissioner Barrett Murphy after an investigation by Inspector General Joseph Ferguson uncovered racist and sexist emails sent among the department's top brass.
Rahm Emanuel fired Water Department Commissioner Barrett Murphy after an investigation by Inspector General Joseph Ferguson uncovered racist and sexist emails sent among the department's top brass.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Alleging that supervisors in the city of Chicago's Water Department created a hostile work environment, six African-American employees sued the city Thursday, claiming they were discriminated against and blocked from promotions.

In May, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Water Department Commissioner Barrett Murphy after an investigation by Inspector General Joseph Ferguson uncovered racist and sexist emails sent among the department's top brass.

The federal lawsuit alleges that managers conspired to "weave a tapestry of hostility that dominates every aspect" of employees' jobs, including unwanted shifts and work assignments as well as being blocked from advancing in the departments.

Employees routinely used racial slurs — including the n-word and "you people," to refer to African-American employees, according to the lawsuit.

"Black female employees are called bitches and whores on a regular basis," according to the lawsuit.

Employees who filed complaints or objected to that treatment were disciplined inappropriately, according to the lawsuit.

A city spokesman said the city does not tolerate "discrimination of employees in any form."

"While we cannot comment on this lawsuit specifically, the city does not take any allegations of this nature lightly," Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city's Law Department, said. "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.”

Emanuel tapped Randy Conner, a city employee of more than 20 years, to replace Murphy and charged him with remaking the department's culture and oversee new management training designed "to help protect City employees and prevent discrimination."

Conner's appointment was unanimously confirmed by the City Council Wednesday.

In addition to Murphy, managing deputy William Bresnahan and district superintendent Paul Hansen were fired as a result of the probe that discovered employees trading racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamaphobic emails.

Two other employees have been placed on leave in connection with the investigation, and could face discipline or termination.

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson's probe was sparked by allegations that Hansen was using his city email and computer to sell guns while on the city clock.

Ferguson told the City Council this week that federal officials were contacted in connection with the probe, but no violations of federal or state law were discovered.