Aldermen approve $500,000 settlement in discrimination case against city manager


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz at Monday’s City Council meeting. Aldermen approved 6-3 a $500,000 settlement in a lawsuit against Bobkiewicz that accuses him of discrimination.

Kristina Karisch, Web Editor

Aldermen approved a $500,000 settlement Monday in a lawsuit against city manager Wally Bobkiewicz that accuses him of discriminating against a former Evanston employee.

The federal lawsuit, filed in 2016 by Suzette Robinson — who identifies as black — alleges that she experienced “discrimination on the basis of race, harassment and (a) racially hostile work environment” as a city employee. According to court documents, Robinson began working for Evanston in 2006 and became its public works director in 2010.

In the lawsuit, Robinson asked for $75,000 in compensation, plus attorney’s fees and punitive damages. The new settlement would give Robinson $500,000, which will be paid out of Evanston’s insurance fund.

Bobkiewicz declined The Daily’s request for comment.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) expressed her support for Bobkiewicz at Monday’s City Council meeting and voted against the decision to settle. It ultimately passed 6-3 with Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) and Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) also dissenting.

“I know for a fact, and I’m being as factual as I can be, that our city manager in no way discriminated against this woman because of race or gender,” Rainey said. “She did not function in an unhealthy work environment.”

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said because the payment would draw on taxpayer dollars and because of Evanston’s current financial situation — the city is trying to fill a $6 million deficit in its proposed 2018 budget — the decision was not made lightly.

Ultimately, Wilson said, aldermen treated the lawsuit like a business decision so they could avoid spending even more money to “prove a point.”

In addition to Bobkiewicz, the lawsuit names the City of Evanston, city attorney Grant Farrar and human resources manager Jennifer Lin as defendants.

Robinson alleges in the lawsuit that Bobkiewicz had “a history of mistreatment of the City’s African-American community and the City’s African-American employees.” She cites instances in which Bobkiewicz allegedly made derogatory comments to employees and told Robinson that she was “of no value to the City Council” in a one-on-one meeting.

In 2014, she filed a “healthy work environment” complaint against Bobkiewicz. According to the 2016 lawsuit, three of five complaints against Bobkiewicz were sustained, and then-mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl issued a written reprimand in January 2015. Later, in April, Robinson also filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

The lawsuit alleges Robinson’s position was eliminated, “effective immediately,” in August 2015 after Bobkiewicz stated “that the city planned to combine public works and utilities into one department named the public works agency.”

According to the lawsuit, Robinson alleges she was not informed throughout this process, and City Council did not approve the department restructuring that led to her termination.

This January, Robinson herself became the subject of a lawsuit filed by a former employee in the public works department. In that lawsuit, the former employee alleges Robinson commented on her clothing and called her a “stripper and a prostitute.”

At Monday’s council meeting, Rainey maintained her belief that Bobkiewicz did “nothing wrong.” But she said she recognized that if the case was not settled, Robinson “will go after the Evanston taxpayer for every last penny she can bleed out of us.”

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Twitter: @kristinakarisch