Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker at a press conference | twitter.com/govpritzker
CHICAGO — Lawyers for a group of volunteers who worked on J.B. Pritzker’s gubernatorial campaign and now are pressing a racial discrimination lawsuit are continuing efforts to get the governor to give sworn testimony about whether he was aware of the conditions giving rise to their claims.
Attorneys Shay Allen and Jeanette Samuels, both of Chicago, represent a group of black and Latino people who had worked or were still working as field organizers in the Pritzker campaign at the time the lawsuit was filed in 2018. The complaint notes many of the plaintiffs also worked on other high-profile Democratic campaigns, while others worked as activists in other progressive causes and for labor unions.
The lawsuit accused the Pritzker campaign of packing black and Latino campaign workers into majority minority neighborhoods, often in unsafe conditions; denying them benefits and advancement opportunities afforded to white colleagues; and ignoring complaints of racial inequality from minority staffers or terminating those who challenged the alleged conditions, among other allegations. It also accused Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton of defamation for allegedly describing the plaintiffs as “extortionists” in comments to the press about the lawsuit.
Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton
On Jan. 15, attorney William B. Stafford, of the firm of Perkins Coie LLP, of Seattle, filed a motion on behalf of the Pritzker campaign organization asking U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall to shield Pritzker and Stratton from sitting for deposition. Stafford called the attempt to question Pritzker and Stratton under oath a "harassing litigation tactic." Stafford said Pritzker has no personal knowledge of any of the matters in the plaintiffs’ complaint, nor did he or Stratton have any role in hiring, staffing, deploying, managing, disciplining or terminating “field organizers such as Plaintiffs,” or in managing the day-to-day operations of the campaign.
In a Feb. 4 motion, the plaintiffs’ attorneys fired back, asking Judge Kendall to deny Pritzker’s and Stratton’s requests to avoid the depositions because the balance of the competing interest favors the former campaign workers, they said.
Pritzker and Stratton’s “self-serving affidavits do not outweigh the objective evidence that they had personal knowledge of relevant information,” according to the filing. The lawyers invoked a 2002 U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in Patterson v. Avery Dennison Corp., saying it established a framework weighing against the protective order.
The plaintiffs “sought relevant discovery through less intrusive means,” according to their motion, and so “the depositions of Gov. Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Stratton are warranted where they have independent, non-duplicative information about specific claims of discrimination and what — if anything — they personally did in response to those claims.”
According to their motion, the plaintiffs have identified five former campaign workers, four of whom are not party to the lawsuit, who allegedly personally addressed racial discrimination complaints with Pritzker. One plaintiff has already testified Pritzker refused to listen to his complaints.
The plaintiffs said it may be possible Pritzker doesn’t remember such conversations, but “it is not possible that he was ignorant of the racial discrimination that was going on during his campaign. Multiple people told him. The idea that no one spoke to Gov. Pritzker about their complaints of racial discrimination is provably false. Furthermore, if the putative head of the corporation knew about discrimination and turned a blind eye to it that is relevant.”
A two-day September 2018 training session was the tipping point, the plaintiffs continued, because Stratton was present as workers discussed the allegedly discriminatory treatment with senior staff as a result of being ignored by immediate supervisors. As evidence, the filing included a screenshot of Stratton’s tweet with photos of the Burr Ridge session.
Finally, the plaintiffs said both Pritzker and Stratton indicated in affidavits that they assigned and evaluated senior level employees, meaning they could have either hired a human resources worker or directed senior staffers to address the discrimination complaints.