Two Metropolitan Water Reclamation District commissioners are calling for a full-scale investigation into sexual harassment allegations made by a group of African-American female employees, according to a report by Chicago Tribune staff reporter Sabrina L. Miller.
At least eight women say they have filed internal complaints, and one has a pending federal lawsuit alleging a pattern of sexual harassment by colleagues and supervisors. Many of the women are laborers in the district's suburban water treatment plans.
Last week, the Cook County sheriff's office investigated a bomb threat against one woman, Neshawn Moore, a laborer in the southwest suburban Stickney plant. An item made to look like a pipe bomb was discovered beneath her car, Cook County sheriff's police spokeswoman Penny Mateck explained to Miller. Moore said that she believed the threat was retaliation for a lawsuit she filed in federal court against the water district in June.
Moore, 31, was one of more than a dozen African-American women who gathered outside of district headquarters this week to bring attention to their allegations, which they claim have been virtually ignored by district management.
District Commissioners Patricia Young and Barbara McGowan said they were outraged that administrators never brought the allegations to their attention and called for full investigations. McGowan, the lone black female commissioner, said she thought an independent investigation would be the most effective way to attempt to resolve the discontent.
Young told Miller that she, too, supports the women and is upset that administrators never told her and McGowan about the allegations and that none of the women approached commissioners themselves.
General Supt. Jack Farnan, reading from a prepared statement, said he could not comment on some of the women's claims because they were pending, but emphatically denied there was a pattern of sexual and/or racial discrimination against black female employees at the district.
Farnan tried to read his statement in front of district headquarters after a handful of the women, calling themselves "Women for Equality Now," gave tearful testimony about their experiences. But he was shouted down by chants of "apologize" by activists who swarmed him, Miller reported.
In the confines of a conference room last weekend, Farnan read responses to allegations made by three women interviewed in a local televsion news show. The women, including Moore, said they had been subjected to everything from name-calling and sexual advances to inappropriate touching by co-workers and supervisors.
Farnan acknowledged that two women had filed complaints and that "wrongful conduct could not be conclusively established," in either case. The district made reassignments so the employees would have no further contact with the allegedly offending co-workers. Another woman, Farnan said, had her EEOC complaint dismissed. He said other cases were still pending. The Cook County sheriff's office has opened a criminal investigation of the Oct. 29 bomb threat against Moore, Mateck said.
At this week's news conference, Saleema Ali, a Stickney laborer, said that last December her supervisor touched her genitals and was transferred after she complained.
She said his presence in the same building has created a tense environment, but she said she was told that because there had been no witnesses to the incident, she did not have a credible claim.
A water district spokeswoman did not return phone calls seeking information about the number of pending internal and EEOC complaints, but many of the women who testified Monday said they had pending claims.
Moore, who has worked at the district's Stickney plant since 1998, alleges in her lawsuit that male co-workers and managers have repeatedly made sexual comments, exposed their sex organs to her and engaged in sexually graphic conversations about her.
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