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Employees from 34th and Lawndale Streets and Sanitation Yard allege harassment, discrimination according to public records

Public records reveal claims from employees at Lawndale Streets and Sanitation Yard
Public records reveal claims from employees at Lawndale Streets and Sanitation Yard 02:58

CHICAGO (CBS) – It's something CBS 2 has been fighting for -- more than a year and a half. Public records reveal numerous claims of harassment and discrimination within one City of Chicago department.

It took an appeal to the Attorney General, but CBS 2's Tim McNicholas finally got them.

A garbage truck driver who complained in 2015 that a driver told her "he liked my tight jeans," and, "to walk on his side of the truck so he can see me."

Another female driver who told investigators "I felt scared, frightened," after a male driver "cussed me out" in 2017 and hurled a sexist insult.

And a driver who reported in 2018 that a male coworker offered her $200 which she said was "to do a sexual favor."

Those are three of the harassment and discrimination reports from employees of the 34th and Lawndale Streets and Sanitation Yard. Reports the city fought to withhold from us for a year and a half.

"It's still very disturbing."

It all started with Heidi McGee and her husband Martell. Garbage truck drivers who told us in the fall of 2020 that Heidi's white supervisor sent her a text message with the N-word.

"There's a culture of similar things that have happened to us as well as other people. Most definitely worse." Martell said.

We wanted to look into that, so we sent the city a public records request for any complaints of discrimination or harassment from employees at that facility since 2015. But Commissioner Christopher Owen and his Human Resources Department fought that request every step of the way -- citing employee privacy concerns.

They've finally sent us the records after the office of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul issued a rare, binding directive to release them.

Most of the seven, heavily redacted complaints are from employees complaining of sexual harassment from their coworkers.

The driver who said a coworker offered her $200 said that same man "touched" her "behind" as she sat down and then said it was an accident.

Another complaint from 2017 says a driver even bragged "he can see a young lady in a shower on one of our routes."

All complaints the city tried to withhold from us.

"People need to understand what their rights are."

Matt Topic is a lawyer who helps people fight the government for public records.

"Unfortunately, the nature of government and I think it's especially true in the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago is to try to keep things secret for as long as possible if it might be embarrassing to people in power. And that's exactly what you have here." Topic said.

And of course, we're still investigating. At 34th and Lawndale and beyond.

In a statement from the city:

The Department of Streets and Sanitation gives immediate priority to all allegations of harassment and works closely with the Department of Human Resources (DHR), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to complete investigations and take action where warranted. Of the seven complaints referenced, DHR found one to be unsustained, one complaint was withdrawn, two were sustained with discipline served and three were coded Administrative Closure. Matters may be administratively closed based on DHR's assessment that various factors, including but not limited to, departure of parties from City employment, and availability of witnesses, that indicate the investigation should not continue. To further enhance employee education and training, the City is currently working with Futures Without Violence, a national training and technical assistance center on gender-based violence, to develop a standardized mandatory suite of training for all City employees. This training seeks to further foster safe, equitable workplaces free from discrimination and harassment.  

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