Cook Co. to settle sex harassment suit involving highway workers
BY BRIAN SLODYSKO Staff Reporter April 8, 2014 8:02PM
The George W. Dunne county building at 69 W. Washington in the Loop. | Sun-Times files
Updated: May 10, 2014 6:41AM
The Cook County Board is expected to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit Wednesday, paying out $400,000 to two women who say they endured years of humiliation and anguish working for the county Highway Department.
In the 2012 lawsuit, the women described an overarching culture of sexual harassment in the department’s Chicago office, dating back to at least 2003 — a culture current board President Toni Preckwinkle says was overhauled and investigated in 2011, just seven months into her tenure.
“I had inherited a pretty desperate situation,” Preckwinkle said Tuesday. “As soon as we heard about [the allegations], we turned them over to the inspector general to investigate.”
Prior to that, Philishia Fields and Helen Chandler said they made repeated complaints to former highways Supt. Rupert Graham, which fell on deaf ears, according to the court filing.
In a 2010 complaint to the highway department’s top boss, Chandler alleged that male employees regularly conducted trysts on county time in the department darkroom.
The women’s boss, Keith F. Washington, was named as a defendant, as was another supervisor, Mike C. Davis.
Dating back to 2003 Washington — who allegedly referred to himself as “Daddy” and bragged about his Viagra supply — made supercharged sexual remarks to Fields and Chandler, the suit states. Frequently he would grope the women or rub his crotch against them in passing, according to the suit. He allegedly requested oral sex on a daily basis and also offered promotions in exchange for sexual favors, the suit alleges.
Washington, who declined to comment, resigned from his $87,189 a year job in October 2011, at the outset of an investigation, according to Preckwinkle spokeswoman Karen Vaughan.
In the court filing, both women claim they rebuffed Washington’s overtures. Neither could be reached for comment.