The city of Lake Forest has reached a $399,000 out-of-court settlement on a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by an employee in federal court.
The city will pay a $25,000 deductible and Intergovernmental Risk Management Association, the city’s insurance provider, will pick up the remainder of the settlement cost, Mayor Donald Schoenheider said Thursday afternoon.
Otis Linder, a Lake Forest assistant streets supervisor for 25 years, filed the lawsuit against the city in January, claiming a supervisor used racial slurs in the workplace.
Linder was unavailable for comment Thursday but issued a statement through his attorney, John Madden.
“While I stand by the issues I raised, I am satisfied that the city has acknowledged it needed to take action to correct inappropriate conduct, protect its employees, and affirm that harassment in any form will not be tolerated,” Linder said.
“With this resolution, I am further satisfied that the city of Lake Forest has demonstrated its earnest desire to re-commit itself to the core values and civil rights of all its employees, to provide a professional working environment and to foster a workplace free from discrimination,” he continued.
Linder and his superior, who is listed on the city’s website as Louis Decker, supervisor of streets and sanitation, will leave their jobs on Friday, Sept. 5, according to the mayor.
“Resignation wasn’t necessarily part of the agreement, but that was the decision that was made by all parties,” Schoenheider said.
The City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 2, voted unanimously to accept the settlement and authorized City Manager Bob Kiely to execute the agreement. The vote was part of the omnibus agenda and there was no discussion on the settlement during the meeting.
Schoenheider said the city “took immediate and very definitive action” when it was made aware of the racial discrimination allegations.
“We continually train our employees on how to deal with appropriate situations and deal with their fellow employees and supervisors in the workplace,” Schoenheider said, adding that Lake Forest “on a regular basis puts all city employees through sensitivity training” on a variety of topics.
“We’re committed to continuing to do this and continuing to make sure that incidents like this don’t happen,” the mayor said, calling it “an unfortunate situation.”
Linder’s lawsuit alleged that the city failed to address discrimination in the workplace and that Linder’s immediate supervisor created a hostile work environment where racial slurs were commonplace, according to the suit.
The suit said that Linder, a black man, was employed as an assistant street supervisor for nearly 25 years and was due for a promotion. However, in May 2011, Lake Forest did not promote Linder and hired a white man outside the department, the suit said.
It was this immediate supervisor who created a hostile work environment for Linder and other minorities, according to the suit.
The lawsuit claimed that Linder’s superior allegedly referred to poorly done work as “n—– rigged.” When work was done properly, however, Linder’s supervisor would say it was done, “the white way,” the suit said.
The suit also claimed the same supervisor repeatedly used the slur at work, and cites other instances in which he used anti-Hispanic slurs in front of Hispanic employees.
Linder filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which was also cross-filed with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
In April 2013, the EEOC determined that the evidence Linder and other workers provided was enough to establish reasonable cause that the city of Lake Forest discriminated against Linder and other workers, according to the suit.
–Sun-Times Media wire contributed