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Pritzker campaign committee says ex-campaign workers refusing to cooperate, discrimination suit should be tossed

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By Dan Churney | Nov 27, 2019

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker | Youtube screenshot

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s campaign committee and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton are alleging former campaign workers, who are suing the governor's campaign committee on grounds of racial discrimination and are accusing Stratton of defamation, should have their cases tossed and be penalized for failing to give depositions and furnish other information.

"In these circumstances, while dismissal is a serious sanction, Defendants respectfully submit it is the right one here," lawyers for Pritzker's campaign committee said.

One dozen black and Latino campaign workers sued the committee, Committee Field Operations Director Caitlin Pharo and Lt. Gov. Stratton in late 2018 in Chicago federal court, alleging the committee packed them into minority neighborhoods, often in dangerous environments, and denied them benefits and advancement opportunities given their white colleagues. The workers served as racial minority field organizers to drum up votes for Pritzker. The suit was lodged three weeks before the election, which Democratic candidate Pritzker won.

Plaintiffs alleged they were "herded" into campaign offices in Chicago's black and Latino areas. At one office, robberies, a shootout and a rape occurred near their campaign office, the plaintiffs alleged, while the office itself was cased for a holdup. Requests to campaign headquarters to move the office were refused, even when an alderman offered them free space in a safer location, plaintiffs alleged. 

Plaintiffs said they asked higher-ups why Pritzker had not visited the office. They were told Pritzker would do so when "they stop shooting," according to plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs alleged Stratton defamed them by allegedly describing plaintiffs as "extortionists" for filing their suit. 

Plaintiffs' other claims include that the campaign ignored a worker's sexual harassment complaint, because the worker was black, and fired workers who allegedly challenged racial inequalities.  

The Priztker campaign has denied wrongdoing, deriding the suit as "overheated rhetoric." U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall declined to dismiss the lawsuit earlier this spring. 

They recently called for sanctions against plaintiffs for allegedly refusing to cooperate with discovery.

"Last month, the Court granted Defendants’ motion to compel Plaintiffs to sit for their depositions, produce documents that had been withheld based on untimely and waived objections, and supplement incomplete interrogatory responses for which Plaintiffs had also asserted untimely and waived objections. It provided Plaintiffs with specific deadlines to meet their discovery obligations. But, unfortunately, Plaintiffs continue to ignore those obligations," the campaign committee claimed.

The committee alleged plaintiffs' attorneys have repeatedly given the excuse they are too busy to complete discovery in the time set by Kendall, who is presiding over the case.

"Defendants cannot effectively defend this case unless they take Plaintiffs’ depositions, and the only way to do so now is to again extend discovery — which would effectively reward Plaintiffs’ misconduct," the committee said.

The committee wants the claims dismissed for the eight plaintiffs, who have allegedly refused to agree to deposition dates by Dec. 10, as fixed by Kendall.

The committee wants the four other plaintiffs ordered to supplement their interrogatory responses with information withheld on the basis of "untimely and waived objections."

In addition, the committee is asking Kendall to order plaintiffs and their counsel to pay the committee and Stratton's costs associated with retaking any depositions based on late supplementation, as well as the cost of bringing the motion for sanctions.

The committee, Pharo and Stratton are defended by Perkins Coie LLP, which is headquartered in Seattle, with an office in Chicago.

Plaintiffs are represented by Samuels & Associates, of Chicago, and The Law Office of Shay T. Allen, of suburban Flossmoor.

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Organizations in this Story

Perkins CoieFriends of Juliana StrattonU.S. District Court for the Northern District of IllinoisLaw Office of Shay T. AllenJB Pritzker for GovernorIllinois Governor J.B. Pritzker