Ferguson highlights sexual harassment in water, cultural affairs departments

SHARE Ferguson highlights sexual harassment in water, cultural affairs departments

Chicago City Hall. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

After tightening Chicago’s sexual harassment ordinance for the fifth time in six months, Ald. Marge Laurino (39th) said she wanted to drive the message home to city employees because: “I don’t think you can tell them often enough.”

It looks like Laurino was right.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson on Monday accused a “director-level” employee at the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and a construction laborer from the scandal-scarred Department of Water Management of engaging in sexual harassment on the job.

As always, neither accused employee was identified in Ferguson’s quarterly report.

The Cultural Affairs employee was accused of engaging in “aggravated battery of a security guard and repeatedly sexually harassing” that guard and a second guard.

In a series of incidents in 2016 and 2017, Ferguson said the high-ranking employee: “displayed his penis to the security guard” while grabbing the guard’s hand; rubbed the guard’s leg without invitation; made inappropriate sexual advances and comments toward the guard and made sexual comments toward the second guard.

“Many of these incidents occurred during work hours and on city property,” the inspector general wrote.

Ferguson recommended the director be terminated and placed on the city’s “Do-Not-Hire” list. The accused has since resigned and been placed on the no-hiring list.

The construction laborer at the water department — a department that has been at the center of a scandal over racist, sexist and homophobic emails — is likewise accused of harassing a security guard at a Water Management worksite.

“The employee grabbed the security guard by the hips and made thrusting gestures,” Ferguson wrote — actions that “violated state and local laws, as well as city rules and policies.”

Ferguson recommended that the laborer be fired and placed on the “Do Not Hire” list. He also recommended “refresher training for supervisory staff on their responsibilities when confronted with allegations of sexual harassment” by Water Management employees.

All recommendations were followed.

At an explosive City Council hearing in January, nearly two dozen current and former Water Management employees complained that the same hate-filled culture exposed by the email scandal persists, even after a white commissioner was replaced with an African-American.

A black woman on that day testified about how she had been told she wouldn’t get promoted because she “wouldn’t go under the desk.”

On Monday, Ferguson wrapped up his investigation into the Water Management email scandal by reporting that a supervisory employee “failed to report numerous racist and offensive emails received from multiple city employees” over the course of several years.

One of those emails had a subject line, “FW: Fwd: Obama Angry with Texas!!” The forwarded emails said, “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. God Bless San Antonio. God Bless Texas! God. I love Texas.”

The same employees and two co-workers received an email from a city employee listing ten reasons why there are no black NASCAR drivers. Among them: “Pistol won’t stay in front seat,” “Engine noise drowns out the rap music,” “They keep trying to carjack Dale Earnhardt Jr.” and “No passenger seat for the Ho.”

The same employee also received a sexually explicit photo transmitted from another city employee using a city email account and computer.

Ferguson recommended discipline “commensurate” with the violations’ gravity. The employee was suspended for five days.

Yet another Water Management employee was fired and placed on the “Do Not Hire” list for “multiple occasions” of failing to report — and, instead, responding affirmatively to — racist and offensive emails.

One email talked about traveling through Fontana, N.C. and Dandridge, Tenn. and declared: “Google both of them and I guarantee you can’t find a negro!”

One minute later, the employee sent another email stating, “Or a taco bender, for that matter.”

The supervisor replied, “god love you. you have found paradise you lucky mutha.”

In yet another email, the supervisor received an email from a city employee that referred to another city worker as a “Hebrew.”

Another previously-undisclosed email took aim at the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I really need to get out in the woods again,” it stated, “if not to just be with the critters but also to eradicate all the BLM idiots and all the bulls— from the idiots and criminals that back these … I’ll stop.”

Ferguson’s now-completed investigation has targeted seven Water Management employees.

Three of those targeted for firing subsequently resigned. Another was discharged, but filed an appeal that’s still pending.

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