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Racist rants from city employee to cost taxpayers $560,000

Updated: November 12, 2013 6:21AM

Cash-strapped Chicago will spend $560,000 to compensate women victimized by the racist and sexist behavior of a Department of Transportation honcho whose uncle is a former Northwest Side congressman.

Joseph Annunzio was working as a $77,148-a-year department supervisor when he was accused of calling female co-workers “bitches,” using the n-word, “mambo” and “Magilla the Gorilla” to address African Americans and for referring to immigrants as “f---ing foreigners.”

The nephew of former U.S. Rep. Frank Annunzio (D-Ill.) also was accused of parading around at an office holiday party with a red tablecloth over his head while calling himself the “grand wizard,” a title used by the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Ronda Mooney is one of the department employees who will share in the settlement.

“It’s not the money — it’s the principle,” Mooney said Thursday. “We are all human. We should be treated with respect. To be violated like that, it was like we didn’t count. It was not right. It was not fair.”

Mooney, 50, of Chicago, said she continues to work as a senior data entry operator for the Transportation Department.

Since Annunzio was fired, “It’s been much calmer,” she said.

Annunzio could not be reached for comment.

Then-Inspector General David Hoffman originally investigated the allegations and recommended that Annunzio be fired.

A hearing officer concurred, but the Human Resources Board overruled the firing and substituted a seven-month suspension on grounds that, while 11 co-workers did testify, targets of the “most egregious allegations” did not.

Hoffman then urged the city’s Law Department to appeal the case to overturn a decision that he warned could “seriously chill reporting of racism and sexism in city workplaces” — particularly when it involves supervisors “perceived to have clout.”

Ironically, the original complaint against Annunzio was filed by a woman with her own clout.

Patty Young was the girlfriend of William Beavers, the former Chicago alderman and Cook County commissioner who was recently sentenced to six months in prison after being convicted on federal tax-evasion charges.

A circuit court judge upheld Annunzio’s firing. So did the Illinois Appellate Court.

In the sharply worded lower court ruling, then-Judge Leroy Martin Jr. wrote, “The record is replete with evidence that . . . Annunzio repeatedly made racist, derogatory and disparaging remarks” about employees.

On Friday, the City Council’s Finance Committee is scheduled to approve a $560,000 settlement for Young, Donna Smith, Mooney and other women victimized by Annunzio’s racist and sexist behavior.

In a 2007 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Annunzio acknowledged using vulgarity to get his points across to employees. He also admitted that his use of the word “foreigners” to describe immigrants may have been insensitive.

But Annunzio insisted that he never once made racist, sexist or other demeaning remarks to co-workers. And he said the infamous tablecloth incident was made up out of whole cloth to get rid of him for cracking the whip.

At the time, Annunzio offered to take a polygraph test to prove his innocence.

“They accused me of jumping up and down like a monkey and wearing red hoods. They said it happened in one office, then in another office, then down the hall. It never happened,” he said at the time. “It’s crazy. That’s why the stories are totally inconsistent.”

The $560,000 only adds to the mountain of settlement costs piled onto Chicago taxpayers in recent years.

The Sun-Times reported last month that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has shelled out $169 million to settle lawsuits against the city — $77.4 million of it this year alone — nearly triple the amount paid by the city during the final two years of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration.

Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton attributed the spike to two factors: Daley’s decision to “put the brakes” on settlements and Emanuel’s desire to cut the city’s losses and settle early in cases taxpayers were destined to lose.

The tab under Emanuel rises to $247.4 million when you factor in the $78.4 million Chicago borrowed last year to compensate 6,000 African-American would-be firefighters bypassed by the city’s discriminatory handling of a 1995 entrance exam.

The Law Department did not include those damages in its response to the Sun-Times’ Freedom of Information Act request on grounds that it stemmed from “a court ruling — not a case we decided to settle” and because the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision predated Emanuel.

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