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Suit Follows Shake-Up At Chicago Water Department

(CBS) -- Seven employees of Chicago's Water Department filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday morning, claiming they were denied promotions, subjected to racial claims and sexually harassed because of their race.

CBS 2's Sandra Torres has details.

"I feel less than the man that I am when I'm talked to disrespectfully," says 57-year-old Derrick Edmond.

He refers to the treatment he's received while working at the south water purification plant. He's among the Water Department employees in the suit who say, in part, "black employees are humiliated, harassed, and threatened daily by co-workers."

"In 2017, many black people at the Water Department still cannot go to work and make a living without being subject to a hostile work environment," Edmond says.

Edmond has been working as an operating engineer at the plant for over 30 years.

In the lawsuit, he claims:

--supervisors denied him promotion opportunities because of his race.

--they called him the "N" word and referred to him as "you people."

--he was disciplined in retaliation for speaking out against his treatment in the department.

"All of their stories are consistent from top to bottom," attorney Vick Anderson says.

In May, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Water Department Commissioner Barrett Murphy after an investigation uncovered racist and sexist emails.

Attorneys say employees now want justice.

"This lawsuit falls on the heels of our mayor of our city having to acknowledge that the culture of the Water Department is indeed hostile and abusive," William C. Martin says. "This is the next step in this admission process."

Two plaintiffs are women and five are men; attorneys say at least 30 others have reached out to them with similar claims.

A spokesperson for Emanuel issued this prepared statement in response to the lawsuit:

"The City of Chicago has no tolerance for discrimination of employees in any form, and while we cannot comment on this lawsuit specifically, the City does not take any allegations of this nature lightly.  The Mayor recently appointed a new commissioner and is committed to providing the support and resources necessary to implement changes and address issues at the Department of Water Management."

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