On the same day Illinois voters by wide margins selected Democrat JB Pritzker to be the state’s next governor, and his running mate, Democratic State Rep. Juliana Stratton, to serve as lieutenant governor, a group of Pritzker campaign workers added Pritzker and Stratton as individual defendants in a discrimination lawsuit the workers brought in the closing days of the gubernatorial campaign, particularly targeting Stratton for allegedly defaming the campaign workers behind the suit as “extortionists.”
On Nov. 6, the group of campaign workers, through their attorneys Shay T. Allen and Jeanette Samuels, both of Chicago, filed an amended complaint in Chicago federal court, which for the first time named both Pritzker and Stratton as defendants in the case.
The lawsuit also added a count of defamation against Stratton, alleging she “caused to be widely disseminated false statements about the Plaintiffs, including that they were extortionists.”
The lawsuit now further alleges that, after the lawsuit was filed, the Pritzker campaign retaliated against five of the plaintiffs, placing them on “’administrative leave with pay,’ pending the outcome of an investigation into knowingly false allegations against them,” actions they said were taken with the approval and knowledge of Pritzker, Stratton and Pritzker campaign manager Anna Capara.
“… No meaningful investigation has taken place and the moving force of the adverse employment action taken against Plaintiffs was to punish them for asserting their constitutional rights,” the complaint said.
The new allegations build on a complaint first filed in mid-October by the group of black and Latino Pritzker campaign workers. The named plaintiffs in the action had worked or were still working as field organizers in the Pritzker campaign in 2018. The complaint notes many of the plaintiffs had also worked on other Democratic political campaigns in the past, including that of former President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Others worked as activists in other progressive causes and for labor unions, according to the complaint.
Pritzker and his campaign have not yet formally replied to the lawsuit in court. In public statements, Pritzker, Stratton and others have repeatedly denied the allegations spelled out in the initial lawsuit. Representatives of the Pritzker campaign did not reply to a request for comment from The Cook County Record.
The complaint focuses on the alleged treatment of the campaign’s racial minority field organizers, who were tasked with turning out the vote for Pritzker.
The plaintiffs specifically complained the Pritzker campaign clustered racial minorities in Chicago neighborhoods heavily populated by African American and Latino residents, locating their campaign offices in “unsafe” locations and then ignoring their complaints and concerns, when voiced.
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.
On Nov. 6, Pritzker and Stratton easily won election, trouncing incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. Prtizker and Stratton will take office in January.