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Racist, Sexist Emails By Water Dept. Employees Released By Watchdog

By Heather Cherone | July 17, 2017 1:32pm | Updated on July 18, 2017 11:49am
 Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, left, said former Water Department Commissioner Barrett Murphy presided over an
Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, left, said former Water Department Commissioner Barrett Murphy presided over an "unrestricted culture of overtly racist and sexist behavior and attitudes within the department."
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CITY HALL — An "unrestricted culture of overtly racist and sexist behavior and attitudes" infested the City of Chicago's Department of Water Management, Inspector General Joseph Ferguson said Monday, unveiling the findings of an investigation that cost three high-ranking officials their jobs.

A supervisor in the department "used a city email account to repeatedly send and receive racist and offensive emails," Ferguson said in his quarterly report released Monday.

In May, when news of the probe surfaced, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Commissioner Barrett Murphy and his deputy William Bresnahan, and directed the department's new leader Randy Conner, a city employee of more than 20 years, to change the department's culture.

Murphy received a number of the racist emails discovered by Ferguson, who said he could not be sure his office had uncovered all of the emails containing offensive language.

Conner will oversee new management training designed "to help protect city employees and prevent discrimination," officials said.

Six employees filed a federal lawsuit in June that 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.

In addition to the terminations of Murphy and Bresnahan, district superintendent Paul Hansen and Thomas J. Durkin, the general foreman of plumbers, faced termination as a result of the probe that discovered employees trading racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamaphobic emails, City Hall sources said. They resigned, and can not be rehired by the city.

Other employees could face discipline or termination in connection with the probe, Ferguson's report said.

Ferguson's probe was sparked by allegations that Hansen — the son of former 44th Ward Ald. Bernard Hansen — used his city email and computer to sell guns while on the city clock, sources said.

While Hansen is not named in the report, it says an unnamed employee used their city email account to negotiate personal purchases or sales of at least four firearms with private individuals. Ferguson told the City Council that federal officials were contacted in connection with the probe, but no violations of federal or state law were discovered.

In addition, Ferguson's report found that same employee used his city computer to watch sexually explicit videos on YouTube and repeatedly sent and received sexually explicit photos and videos "on thousands of occasions" in a four-month period. In addition, the employee emailed a confidential Violence in the Workplace complaint to the subject of the complaint.

Emails sent by water department employees include:

• An offer of "Chicago Safari Tickets" to multiple high-ranking employees. Ferguson said the email read: "We guarantee that you will see at least one kill and five crime scenes per three day tour. You'll also see lots and lots of animals in their natural habitat. Call and book your Chicago Safari today." Attached to the email was an "image of four white people in safari gear taking pictures of several black individuals who are trying to break into a car," according to the report.

• An email with the subject line "Watermelon Protection" contained an image of a Ku Klux Klan robe on a stick in the middle of a watermelon patch, according to the report.

• Another email with the subject line "U Know U Be In Da Hood" contained several photographs, including one of a wheelbarrow full of watermelons with a sign stating "Apply for a Credit Card. Free Watermelon," according to the report.

• Another email references celebrity chef Paula Deen, who lost a number of endorsements after it was revealed that she used racist language. The email reads “As an apology — Paula Deen Opens Swimming Pool For Youth.” The message included a photo of a black baby in a bucket filled with water, holding a slice of watermelon in his hand, according to the report.

• Other emails were written in what purported to be Ebonics in an effort to disparage African Americans.

Another employee sent emails that:

• referred to Muslims in a vulgar way

• described African-Americans as "wild animals" who are "untamed"

• suggested that people should have thrown grenades at a black Italian politician instead of bananas.

In response to a separate complaint, Ferguson recommended that city officials fire a water department chemist for harassing a former water department employee and a current city employee department by sending them multiple text messages and phone calls.

Those messages included derogatory and threatening statements and occurred after both employees had already filed multiple complaints against the chemist, including with the Chicago Police Department.

Ferguson's report called the chemist's conduct "particularly egregious" because the unnamed employee had a "long and documented history of harassing other [water department] employees."

In addition, the chemist "made numerous false, inaccurate, or deliberately incomplete statements during the [inspector general] interview when the chemist denied sending the harassing messages, despite being presented with documentary evidence to the contrary."

The water department fired the chemist, who has appealed his termination.

Read the full report here:

OIG 2nd Quarter 2017 Report 1 by Heather Cherone on Scribd