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UIUC facing racial harassment lawsuit

Monday, Feb 4, 2019

* Coming a little late to this, but here’s WILL

A lawsuit filed Monday in federal court includes numerous allegations of racial harassment of black employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The plaintiffs allege in court documents racial harassment is U of I’s “standard operating procedure.”

Black employees at the U of I were “exposed to threats of racial violence, such as nooses, swastikas, KKK garb, racist graffiti, and confederate flags,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges staff members used racial slurs and other racially charged language against black workers:

    “UIUC supervisors and other employees frequently use racial slurs and offensive stereotypes, calling black employees ‘n*ggers,’ ‘boy,’ ‘monkey,’ ‘lazy,’ ‘angry,’ ‘rowdy,’ and ‘Aunt Jemima,’ and using other offensive racial language.”

Attorney Joshua Friedman, who represents the plaintiffs, said the U of I’s non-discrimination policy allows this kind of harassment because the campus considers these incidents not severe or pervasive enough to violate the policy.

The lawsuit also claims the U of I’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Access (now known as the Office For Access and Equity or OAE) — the department in charge of investigating discrimination claims — is itself “rife with internal racial harassment.”

* WBBM

“It’s like stepping into a wormhole, to a time before the Civil Rights Act,” said attorney Joshua Friedman, who represents the black plaintiffs suing U of I. “We’re talking about racial slurs, including the N-word, racial symbols, symbols of the Confederacy – nooses, which are violent threats to kill African Americans because of the color of their skin. KKK garb. Swastikas.”

Friedman said his firm sees harassment cases, but this is different.

“We’re usually talking about shipyards or industrial employers. I’ve never seen anything on this scope before at a university.”

It was three years ago when a noose and swastikas were found at U of I. A groundskeeper was fired, but some African American employees like Atiba Flemons said employees are still harassed because of their race. And he said the university lets it happen.

The full lawsuit is here.

* Related…

* U of Illinois still in search of new chief diversity officer: The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports that Chancellor Robert Jones told search committee members last month that the goal is to make a decision by the end of the academic year in May. Jones originally hoped to hire someone for the job early this semester.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

23 Comments »
  1. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 12:41 pm:

    “[T]he campus considers these incidents not severe or pervasive enough to violate the policy.”

    As an employee of a private university I’d be out the door for any of this. And I’d deserve it.


  2. - Anon - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 12:48 pm:

    No hyperbole from this attorney…nope…none.


  3. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 12:49 pm:

    Very shocking allegations. Note that the class reps. have all been through the administrative and EEOC processes and received right to sue clearances from the Justice Department.

    Air it out and let the chips fall where they may.

    To those former campaign workers who sued Pritzker last October: this is what a real lawsuit drafted by real lawyers looks like.


  4. - Cubs in '16 - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 12:51 pm:

    If this type of harassment really is SOP, I’m shocked there hasn’t been a lawsuit before now.


  5. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 1:01 pm:

    –No hyperbole from this attorney…nope…none.–

    If the allegations are true, where is the hyperbole?


  6. - Responsa - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 1:03 pm:

    Thoroughly investigate, prove, and take action against specific perpetrators or departments. Settle with plaintiffs for compensation if specific cases are true. But:

    ==The plaintiffs allege in court documents racial harassment is U of I’s “standard operating procedure.”==

    No. Not buying that across the board –no way no how, and the lawyers hurt their case at the very outset by over-claiming that it’s full-stop SOP at the University of Illinois.


  7. - A Jack - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 1:03 pm:

    I skimmed through the lawsuit and it is very well documented.


  8. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 1:07 pm:

    It is hyperbole to say that this behavior is “standard operating procedure.”

    The allegations can still be true, and probably are, given past issues that have already surfaced. The issues are generally at the lowest levels of supervision where UI policy doesn’t always penetrate or change the culture. UI employs hundreds of grounds and operations staff that are often from nearby small towns where encounters with other races can be limited. leading to these behaviors.

    I’ve had experience with ODEA and found them to be extremely proactive, not some type of cover for harassment.


  9. - City Zen - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 1:25 pm:

    “U of I’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Access (now known as the Office For Access and Equity or OAE)…is itself “rife with internal racial harassment.”

    Interesting that the AA staff isn’t all that affirmative but the EEO staff is almost entirely female and minority.

    https://diversity.illinois.edu/staff.html


  10. - dbk - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 2:07 pm:

    – The issues are generally at the lowest levels of supervision where UI policy doesn’t always penetrate or change the culture. UI employs hundreds of grounds and operations staff that are often from nearby small towns where encounters with other races can be limited. leading to these behaviors.–

    Probably the best explanation of such behavior.

    But a state employer with 4,000 people on its support/operations staff can and must do better. “Lowest levels of supervision” and “operations staff from small towns” won’t play well in court.


  11. - anon - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 2:59 pm:

    “won’t play well in court” - perhaps not if the case gets to a jury, but a judge will care. If an employer shows they have a policy and respond as allegations arise, misconduct at the lowest levels of employment typically don’t bring liability. Whether the ‘lowest levels of supervision’ count as supervisors (which changes liability typically) is a tricky fact-dependent question.


  12. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 3:00 pm:

    Chief Diversity Officer. When, as a nation, will this be unnecessary?


  13. - Nonbeleiver - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 3:05 pm:

    * U of Illinois still in search of new chief diversity officer:’

    Hope that part of the duties of the diversity officer is to make certain that there is a wide variety of opinions held by those faculty who are selected by search committees and approved by the administration. And not just faculty selecting those who agree with their positions, whatever that might be.

    Diversity in a university should be more than about just race/sex.


  14. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 3:11 pm:

    “Hope that part of the duties of the diversity officer is to make certain that there is a wide variety of opinions held by those faculty who are selected by search committees and approved by the administration. And not just faculty selecting those who agree with their positions, whatever that might be.”

    More antivaxxers in the math department? Ok.


  15. - Nonbeleiver - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 3:23 pm:

    “More antivaxxers in the math department? Ok.’

    Please do not try to take a serious matter and make a straw man argument.

    OK.


  16. - 47th and Lake Park - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 3:26 pm:

    UIUC has been stuck in the 1950s on many things. Very self-satisfied in general, so why should they rock the boat? The employees they are talking about here are not faculty, so they count for almost nothing in the decision-making process. If you want to see the most diverse major public university campus in the country, take a stroll around UIC. It is national model in this regard. Perhaps big brother could learn from little brother?


  17. - dbk - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 3:45 pm:

    anon@2:59

    Fair enough, and agree.

    In which case, I hope it goes to a jury, and I say this as a UIUC alum, both undergrad and grad.


  18. - Downstate Rube - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 5:17 pm:

    Can anyone point to a source that most grounds and operations employees are from nearby towns? I can’t find one. Silly hicks. The racism surely couldn’t come from anyone in Champaign/Urbana.


  19. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 7:23 pm:

    Just the ones I know personally, Downstate. Some certainly comes from in town as well. The larger point was that this happens at the lower supervisory levels and therefore is not an official policy of UI, as the complaint states.


  20. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 7:27 pm:

    It would be bad at any school, but doubly so at one that attempts to pass itself off as elite.


  21. - Downstate Rube - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 7:44 pm:

    So not all are from small towns. Maybe these people are just racist and being from a small town has nothing to do with it. Your implying small town people are racist. Where they are from has nothing to do with it.


  22. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 7:53 pm:

    Downstate, I said “grounds and operations staff that are often from nearby small towns where encounters with other races can be limited”. Don’t be a snowflake.


  23. - Downstate Rube - Monday, Feb 4, 19 @ 8:37 pm:

    Not a snowflake. Where they are from has nothing to do with it. Unless every one of them is from a small town, it has nothing to do with it.


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