Derrick Edmond has been an employee in the Chicago Department of Water for over 30 years, but he’s now part of a federal lawsuit alleging racial discrimination against management of the agency.
Edmond, an employee at the Sawyer Water Purification Plant on the South Side, is one of eight employees filing suit against the agency.
“Personally, I feel like a little bit less than a man than I am when I have to be talked to disrespectfully, especially after 33 years and an impeccable work record,” Edmond said.
The lawsuit alleges a long-standing and wide-ranging pattern of racial discrimination inside Chicago’s Department of Water Management.
According to the suit, Edmond and others were assigned less desirable shifts and days off, given less desirable work assignments, denied promotions and transfers and were intimidated and harassed because of their race.
“They came to us and told us they had been living in a poisonous environment, literally living in the sewer,” attorney Victor Henderson told reporters.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of the resignation of former Chicago water commissioner Barrett Murphy, who left his office amid reporters of an inspector general’s investigation into racist and sexist emails by the department.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case say that resignation was a good start, but more must be done to correct what they say has been decades of discrimination at the department.
“We have filed this lawsuit because in 2017, many black people at the water department still cannot go to work and make a living without being subjected to a hostile work environment,” Edmond said.
The plaintiffs in the case allege that the environment not only made it difficult to come into work on a daily basis, but also held them back in their careers with the department.
“All of their stories are consistent, from top to bottom,” Henderson said. “We are hoping the city responds favorably because they have already taken some action.”