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Aldermen blast worker’s racist rants but approve $560,000 settlement

Outraged Chicago aldermen on Friday demanded to know why a clout-heavy supervisor’s racist and sexist behavior was swept under the rug for years — to the point where taxpayers are on the hook for a $560,000 settlement to the victims.

Members of the City Council’s Finance reluctantly approved the settlement, but not before demanding to know what has changed since Chicago Department of Transportation honcho Joseph Annunzio called 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.) was further 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.

“This was outrageous conduct to say the least,” said Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd).

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) noted that Annunzio spent 15 years at CDOT before finally being fired in 2007.

“Old dogs don’t change their ways. So this must have been going on for a long, long time,” Tunney said.

“We have 26,000-plus employees and it takes a lawsuit for us to figure out what Human Resources that’s monitoring these departments [is supposed to know]? Unfortunately, we’re in a reactive situation for what is standard practice for an employer so large.”

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) was incensed that higher-ups accused by the victims of covering up for Joseph Annunzio were never fired or even disciplined.

The lawsuit that triggered the $560,000 settlement named six defendants, two of who are still employed by the city. They include a deputy commissioner.

“You’re trying to avoid a multimillion dollar settlement. I understand the economics of this. However, if we have people currently in our employ [who] participate or allowed this atmosphere to exist, are we just saying that’s okay?” Ervin said.

“To just sweep this under the rug with a settlement and not address the root issue in the workplace, I don’t think that serves the city well because we may end up back in a similar position if we don’t address the individuals.”

First Deputy Corporation Counsel Leslie Darling said the accused supervisors “followed procedures in place at the time and we’ve changed those” procedures dramatically.

“At that time, allegations of racial discrimination and harassment were often conducted at the department level. More recently, the Department of Human Resources has assumed responsibility for conducting these investigations throughout the city as part of a continuing effort to ensure that investigations are thorough, consistent, fair and timely,” Darling said.

Ervin was not appeased.

“If, in the department’s opinion, those individuals followed procedures, it sounds on its face that we’re just trying to wipe this thing away without addressing the real issue here. I understand the economic issue. But, if we don’t address the rest of it, we’ll find ourselves back here again,” he said.

E-MAIL: fspielman@suntimes.com

TWITTER: @fspielman



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