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UIC mechanic claims he endured racially-charged workplace

A UIC worker is preparing to file a lawsuit charging he endured everything from racial remarks to a rope-fashioned into a noose left behind in his workplace.
A worker is preparing to file a lawsuit charging he endured everything from racial remarks to a rope-fashioned into a noose left behind in his workplace at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Chuck Conner says he's reported the incidents to his boss. One time, the police were even called.

But Conner claims nothing has changed, and that auto fumes aren't the only noxious thing emanating from UIC's vehicle maintenance garage.

A dancing, rapping, black doll is just one of many ways a mechanic at the University of Illinois-Chicago's garage says he's been harassed in the two years he's worked there.

"They try to break you. You're not part of the team and they want to see how you hold up," said Conner.

Chuck Conner says his treatment went far beyond simply testing the "new guy" in the shop. As the only full-time black mechanic, Conner says his supervisor and co-workers routinely made fun of his speech, play racially insensitive YouTube videos and he claims someone even left a rope fashioned like a noose in the garage.

"I talked to the supervisor about it and he'd say 'it's going to be okay, they're just kidding around, they're having fun, just relax, relax," said Conner.

"Employers have an obligation when they learn of racial harassment to do something about it. To just tell the employee to let it go, they don't mean anything by it, that's not a solution," said Max Barack, Conner's attorney.

The noose was reported to campus police in March, but Monday night a UIC spokesman would only say: "The University takes any allegation of a hostile workplace environment very seriously and investigates any such claim diligently."

For his part, Conner says he continues to go to work every day but he says his work-life hasn't gotten any better.

"They started giving me more and more work, more and more dirty jobs and dealing with the race stuff, it's baring on your day by day," said Conner.

UIC's spokesperson declined to comment the specifics of Conner's allegations. His lawyers have already asked the university to preserve possible evidence, including emails, text messages and photos that may have been shared by people who work in that state owned garage.

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