Discrimination complaints lead to calls for Chicago's Water Commissioner to be fired

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Allegations of persistent discrimination at the Chicago Water Department are prompting calls for the mayor to shake up the agency.

An African American and openly gay engineer recently resigned over what she described as a hostile work atmosphere. Now, she and others who have sued the department are pressuring Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the city's first openly gay mayor, to fire the African American commissioner.

Katherine Ealy worked for the Chicago Water Department for nearly 20 years. She quit her position as chief operating engineer at the Sawyer water treatment facility two weeks ago because she said racism and homophobia made for a toxic work environment.

"During my entire time there my gender, sexual orientation or color was always an issue," Ealy said.

Ealy is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed two years ago. She alleges that she was constantly micromanaged and disrespected by her supervisors and those who worked under her because she's black and gay.

The city claims that Ealy was suspended last year for not properly supervising subordinates and for not providing a new mother a private pumping room.

For years, allegations of pervasive discrimination has dogged the city's Water Department.

Ealy said nothing has changed, despite the appointment of Randy Connor as commissioner two years ago under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"I continued to feel each and every day that the culture at the Water Department has not changed and that upper management from commission Randy Connor on down was setting me up to fail," Ealy said.

"The mayor ran on hope and change and said that she was gonna shine the light and so we hope that she shines the light on the Water Department," said Victor Henderson, plaintiff's attorney.
Henderson is calling on the mayor to fire Commissioner Randy Connor.

"What we want is for her to take a water hose and clean out the Water Department, get rid of the cronyism, get rid of the racism, get rid of the nepotism, get rid of the homophobia. Clean the place out," Henderson said.

The chairman of the City Council's Black Caucus defended Connor, saying he's doing a good job in a tough situation.

"We're not condoning any discrimination whatsoever, we just know it's not as simple as switching a switch and it just goes away," said Alderman Jason Ervin. "Again, these are attitudes and years of stuff that's built up in people and I know that he's doing the best he can to remedy those situations."

The plaintiffs are also asking the mayor to hold a closed door meeting with Water Department employees to hear directly from them.

They also claim the city is withholding documents and emails in the lawsuit, which a Chicago Law Department spokesman disputed.
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