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Hostile work environment in Chicago Department of Water Management email scandal triggers $950,000 settlement

Five years ago, an upheaval sparked by racist, sexist and homophobic emails swept through Water Stewardship Commissioner Barrett Murphy and key MPs William Bresnahan and Paul Hansen, sons of the former Ald. Bernard Hansen (44th).

Then-Inspector General Joe Ferguson came across the hate-filled emails while investigating allegations that Paul Hansen was using his city’s email account to sell guns.

Now, the scandal in a department long known as a white bastion of city government is costing Chicago taxpayers dearly.

The city council’s finance committee has authorized a $950,000 settlement to Dilan Abreu, a 40-year-old veteran bricklayer who claims he was harassed, abused and retaliated by the former councilman’s son because of a “culture limitless openly racist behavior and attitudes” tolerated by the city.

During the two-year period Paul Hansen served as superintendent of the Northern Water Management District, Hansen “harassed Hispanic and African American employees with impunity, through a culture of behaviors and attitudes racist that permeates all levels of the department,” said the 2019 federal government of Abreu. lawsuits against city-states.

Hansen was accused of repeatedly using the n-word and other racist epithets to refer to Abreu and other Hispanic employees.

The son of the former alderman was further accused of having told Abreu: “Go back to the island. You don’t belong here” and calling him “idiot”, “stupid asshole” and telling him and other Hispanic employees, “You are the dumbest people there are”.

Two witnesses were prepared to testify that they had witnessed the abuse, the company’s assistant attorney, Susan O’Keefe, said Monday.

The pattern of harassment included Hansen blowing smoke in the cancer survivor’s face and attempting to push Abreu down a six-foot hole “in a fit of rage”, as O’Keefe put it.

Aldus. Nick Sposato (38th) asked what it meant to “try to push someone down a hole”.

O’Keefe replied: “Mr. Abreu alleged that Mr. Hansen walked towards him with determination and anger and punched him shoulder to shoulder. He did not fall into the hole. Others on the job said he was not near the hole. Some said it was a bit close to the hole. … But he definitely made contact.

Abreu’s lawsuit argues that he complained about the department’s “racist culture, and in particular Paul Hansen, long before” the scandal broke, but “the city took no action to stop Hansen’s harassment”.

When Abreu filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in June 2017, it sparked a “retaliatory pattern” that included denial of overtime and equipment and be subject to bogus disciplinary action on bogus charges, according to the suit.

In 2017, Mayor Rahm Emanuel picked veteran City Hall insider Randy Conner, who is African American, to replace Murphy and gave Conner carte blanche to clean house.

In a follow-up report, Ferguson said a high-ranking deputy — whom sources identified as Hansen — referred to African Americans as “wild animals” and sent an email with the subject “Chicago Safari Tickets” to several high-ranking colleagues in water management.

‘If you haven’t booked a Chicago Safari adventure with us this 4th of July weekend, this is what you’ve been missing out on,’ the email reads, listing the number of people shot dead in Englewood, Garfield Park , Austin, Lawndale, South Shore, Woodlawn and other neighborhoods plagued by gang violence.

“We guarantee you will see at least one murder and five crime scenes per three day visit. You will also see lots of animals in their natural habitat.”

Another email with the subject line “Watermelon Protection” included an image of a Ku Klux Klan robe on a stick in the middle of a watermelon patch.

Four current and two former Water Management employees — all black — have joined Abreu in filing federal lawsuits accusing the department at the center of the city and rental truck hiring scandals of “an environment of hostile and abusive work” based on race that includes violence, intimidation and retaliation which “weaves a tapestry of hostility that dominates all aspects” of their work.

This included working less desirable shifts and work assignments and denying promotions, transfers, overtime and training opportunities. Black women were routinely referred to as “sluts and whores,” the lawsuit claims.

Monday, Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) wondered aloud whether the $950,000 settlement of Abreu’s lawsuit could set an expensive precedent for resolving those claims.

“How big is this now? Can it just explode and multiply in many cases? »

O’Keefe assured Napolitano that there would be no avalanche of lawsuits, given the statute of limitations, as Hansen resigned in May 2017.

“An explosion should have happened” by 2021, O’Keefe said.

Other approved regulations

With opposition from nine of the city council’s closest allies to the police union, the finance committee also signed a $900,000 settlement to Dwayne Rowlett, who was shot eight times on New Year’s Day 2017 by a Chicago police officer who resigned last year after the Civilian Office of Police Accountability deemed the shooting unjustified and sought to fire him.

The company’s assistant attorney, Caroline Fronczak, said the shooting happened after Rowlett first eluded officers who tried to pull him over for speeding and ran a stop sign, then drove onto a sidewalk, swept over several vehicles and crashed into a police cruiser.

No weapons were recovered but “several knives”, one of them with a “4 to 5 inch blade”, Fronczak said.

When Rowlett was finally arrested again, a struggle ensued. It was then that officer Alex Raske fired nine shots, eight of which hit Rowlett, causing him “serious and disabling” injuries.

The finance committee also signed a $15 million settlement to compensate the family of one Guadalupe Francisco-Martinez. The 37-year-old mother of six was on her way home on her first day on the job when she was killed in an accident with a marked Chicago police SUV at Irving Park Road and Ashland Avenue.

A $9 million settlement was also approved for Patrick Prince, who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit after being beaten to confess by Chicago police officers.

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