Pritzker campaign accused in lawsuit of discrimination, harassment against black, Latino campaign staffers

By Jonathan Bilyk | Oct 16, 2018

JB Pritzker   By SecretName101 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Saying the Illinois gubernatorial frontrunner’s campaign has routinely “herded” and “marginalized” its workers of color, a group of African American and Latino workers for Illinois Democratic gubernatorial nominee JB Pritzker has sued Pritzker’s campaign organization for discrimination and harassment.

“JB Pritzker for Governor has a serious race problem,” the lawsuit said. “Contrary to the candidate’s many public avowals, rather than working to meaningfully address discrimination, racism is perpetuated, condoned and ratified by the Campaign.”

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 16 in Chicago federal court, specifically alleges the black and Latino campaign workers are packed into majority minority neighborhoods, often in unsafe working conditions, and are denied benefits and advancement opportunities available to their white colleagues.

Named plaintiffs in the action include Maxwell Little, Jason Benton, Jelani Coleman, Celia Colon, Kasmine Calhoun, Erica Kimble, Nathaniel Madison, Tiffany Madison, James B. Tinsley and Mark Walker. All of the plaintiffs either currently work or have worked for the Pritzker campaign as field organizers in 2018, according to the complaint. The complaint also asserts many of the plaintiffs also worked on past Democratic campaigns, including on the presidential campaigns of former President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Democratic campaign organizations for candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in Illinois and other states. Others also worked as social justice and reform activists, and for labor unions, according to the complaint.

The complaint focuses on the alleged treatment of the campaign’s racial minority field organizers. According to the complaint, the Pritzker campaign employs about 90 field organizers, tasked with turning out votes for the Democractic nominee.

The complaint says, however, “the vast majority of Black and Latino field organizers are herded into” an area designated as  “POD 4,” a region covering much of Chicago’s west, south and far south sides – a region heavily populated by African American and Latino residents.

The complaint accuses the Pritzker campaign of placing certain campaign offices within “POD 4” in “unsafe” locations, endangering the workers in those offices. At one location, the complaint said, a neighboring store “was robbed twice in a week; two other stores nearby have been robbed; their office has been cased; a young woman was raped outside their back door; and a gunfight took place right outside their office. All these crimes happened during the day.”

The complaint claims the Pritzker campaign refused their requests to relocate their office, even when a Chicago alderman “offered to let them use space, for free, in a safer location.”

“And when they asked why JB Pritzker did not visit their office, they were told that ‘he’ll (sic) visit when they stop shooting,’” the complaint said. “Apparently, the … office is safe enough for Black and Latino men and women, but not a white man.”

The complaint asserts field organizers complained routinely and regularly about their working conditions and perceived racial discrimination within the Pritzker campaign.

Yet, the complaint claims complainants were given little more than a cursory investigation and a “superficial and meaningless” response, which was actually designed as an “attempt to intimidate Black and Latino field organizers into remaining silent about the racial discrimination they face on a daily basis.”

The complaint asks the court to order the Pritzker campaign to bar campaign workers and directors “from engaging in any employment practice which discriminates based on race;” change the way it posts job openings within the campaign; hire a “Chief Diversity Officer to oversee and audit the campaign’s employment practices, and to prevent and discipline discrimination;” order Pritzker to also hire a Chief Diversity Officer, should he be elected governor; and award the plaintiffs back pay and other damages to make them “whole for all earnings and benefits she or he would have received but for Defendants’ discriminatory treatment,” as well as punitive damages and attorney fees.

The plaintiffs are represented in the action by attorney Shay T. Allen, of Chicago, and attorney Jeanette Samuels, of the firm of Samuels & Associates Ltd., of Chicago.

The Pritzker campaign did not provide comment on the lawsuit to the Cook County Record, which was the first to report on the lawsuit. 

However, in other published reports, Pritzker and those affiliated with his campaign have denied the allegations in the lawsuit, calling them "baseless." 

Current polls have Pritzker far ahead in the race for Illinois governor, leading Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner by around 20 percentage points. Early voting has begun in the statewide contest, and balloting will close on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

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Organizations in this Story

J.B. Pritzker for Governor The Law Office of Shay T. Allen U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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