Institutions of higher learning are supposed to be places of open dialog and inclusion. Students, educators, and employees alike should feel welcome in the university setting, and not be worried about discrimination based on their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. However, seven current or former employees of the University of Illinois have claimed they experienced racial discrimination, and the university is investigating the matter.
Seven people who now or formerly worked in the Urbana-Champaign Facilities and Services Department have complained to the university about racial discrimination. The employees, who are black, have claimed they were denied raises, denied promotions, and faced discriminatory treatment by other employees. Some employees accused them of only getting their jobs because of affirmative action. In one case, one employee says they found a noose on their desk.
Joe Williams, 29-years-old, was a former employee who says he was forced to retire after working in poor conditions for nine months. Williams says he was retaliated against after filing four Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints. Williams claimed he was forced to take breaks and eat lunch in a hot room with asbestos pipes, where bugs crawled around and the floor was wet from leaky pipes.
University of Illinois interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson says the investigation is still under way. Wilson says employees have also been scheduled for diversity and training sessions. The Champaign County chapter of the NAACP is also looking into the matter. Patricia Avery, local NAACP president said at a press conference, “The NAACP is seeking swift and sustainable solutions to what has been reported as years of unfair treatment of many African-American F and S employees.”
This is not the first time the university has faced allegations of racial discrimination. Last year, seven former women's basketball players filed a lawsuit against their coaches for allegedly creating a racially hostile environment. The players claimed that coach Matt Bollant and former assistant coach Mike Divilbiss attempted to segregate players, and more harshly disciplined black players. The players sought $10 million in damages.
The lawsuit alleged the coaches referred to predominantly black teams as “undisciplined and unintelligent,” while describing white players as “disciplined and intelligent.” They also claimed black and white players were prohibited from rooming together in travel accommodations. Before the lawsuit was filed, parents of three of the players wrote to the university complaining about the treatment their children received. In response, an investigation by the university found no legal or NCAA violations.
Despite the findings of no wrongdoing by the coaching staff, the University eventually settled the lawsuit with the former players in the amount of $375,000. As part of the settlement, several new policies have been implemented at the university, including establishing a code of conduct, and enhanced racial sensitivity training for coaches and staff members.
If you have been discriminated at your place of employment for any reason, you should consider speaking with an Illinois discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected. The State of Illinois protects you from illegal discrimination based on your race, gender, and age. Human rights violations affect you, your family, and even your community. Our attorneys have successfully represented clients in employment discrimination claims throughout the state of Illinois. If you have suffered physical, financial or emotional injury, contact your experienced Illinois discrimination attorneys at Benassi & Benassi.