A former conductor for the Illinois Central railroad says he was the victim of ongoing racial harassment at the IC's Markham yard, culminating in a physical assault where a co-worker cut locks from his hair.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court, Solomon Perry says he had already endured racial slurs on railroad radios, and harassing graffiti left throughout the workplace. Co-workers he said, made fun of his dreadlocks, calling him "rope head" and "tree swinger".
Returning to a break room on November 10, 2012, he says a co-worker held him down, cut locks of his hair with a knife, then held them to his own head, and said, "Look at me, I'm a Rastafarian (ephithet), like Perry."
"I was victimized, I was assaulted, and harassed," Perry said. "This was a hate crime. I was targeted!"
What followed, however, was what Perry says brought him in into Federal Court. He insists the railroad never took him seriously, balking at even investigating his complaints.
"They called all of these events horseplay," he said, "and they advised me to come back to work, get over it, and move on."
A spokesman for Canadian National Railway, parent company of the Illinois Central, declined to comment on the allegations in Perry's suit. But he suggested the railroad had followed up on the complaints.
"We do not and did not tolerate that type of behavior," spokesman Patrick Waldron said in a statement. "Illinois Central responded immediately and appropriately that night. The company then conducted a full investigation, after which, the company took appropriate disciplinary action against employees involved in the incident, including the termination of one of those employees."
Perry disputed that, saying the message he received from superiors was, "come back to work, move on, and get over it."
At home, he says he started seeing cars orbiting the block which he believed were driven by the employees who had taunted him. A dead rat was left on his porch, and a note left in his mailbox reading, "If you talk Monday, you are a dead (ephithet)."
The man who cut Perry's hair, Louis Busch, was charged with a count of misdemeanor battery. At his sentencing hearing, Busch's lawyer said he had been forced to retire. But a transcript of that hearing, where Busch pled guilty, indicates the Cook County judge in the case, Allen Murphy, pointedly asked prosecutors why they had not pursued felony charges.
"I was absolutely shocked by those facts," Murphy said, "and I really am very troubled as to why this case wasn't even investigated as a hate crime."
"This case just got swept under the rug," the judge declared, "and sent off to the misdemeanor courthouse!"
In court, Busch said he was sorry for what he had done.
"I would like to apologize to Mr. Solomon for cutting the lock of his hair off," he said. "It was a stupid move, an irresponsible act on my part."
"I am just sorry for the whole situation," he said. "It was just a bad joke. I am really sorry, terribly sorry. I meant nothing by it, personally."
The judge cut attorneys off when they asked for leniency in sentencing.
"I am blue in the face right now over this," he said. "He already got his break. He already got his break from the police by not contacting felony review, because that is where this case belongs, and that is the sincere belief of this Court from what I have heard from the State!"
Busch was sentenced to 18 months court supervision, diversity training, and ten days on a sheriff's work detail.
No longer employed by the Illinois Central, Perry is pursuing a civil case against the railroad and various co-workers and former supervisors, charging racial harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.
"Changes need to be made," said one of his lawyers, Lisa Banks. "It's simply outrageous that in this day and age, things like this are still happening."