DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — An administrative assistant with the city of Danville has sued her longtime employer and multiple city officials, alleging she has faced harassment and an unlawful termination because of her race and gender.
Attorney Jeffrey Kulwin filed the suit in federal court in Urbana on Wednesday on behalf of 51-year-old Lisa Robinson.
The suit follows a 2018-era decision by Danville city officials to fire Robinson from her position with the Department of Engineering and Urban services. By then, Robinson had spent more than 20 years working for the city, having started her career there in 1994.
The suit details Robinson’s attempts in 2016 to report “unlawful harassment and discrimination based on her race (Black) and her age” to city officials. It says Robinson was “subjected to materially different terms and conditions of employment based on her race, and/or age, including but not limited to having some of her job duties removed; not being given information necessary to perform her job duties; not being talked to, and having her requests for time off denied.”
Eventually, after complaints to city officials were made “to no avail,” Robinson filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Illinois Department of Human Rights in March 2017.
Nearly a year later, then-mayor Scott Eisenhauer and Community Development Director David Schnelle — Robinson’s supervisor at the time — “conferred” and fired Robinson in February 2018 on charges of “misconduct,” according to the lawsuit.
When reached for comment, Eisenhauer, now the village administrator of Rantoul, said he was “not able to comment because I have not been served with any papers, nor am I aware of the suit itself.”
Following the termination, Robinson filed a grievance with her union; an arbitrator on October 10, 2018 “ruled there were no reasonable grounds for termination.” The city was ordered to reinstate Robinson to her position, which happened on October 22.
Robinson became the administrative assistant for then-Public Safety Director Larry Thomason; to date, she is still an administrative assistant with Danville Police.
Despite the reinstatement, the suit alleges that not much changed. Robinson had limited access to necessary files, folders and training for work; no job description for her position — all acts the suit describes as retaliation for her attempts to speak up about her treatment at work.
The suit says Robinson took her concerns to current mayor Ricky Williams Jr., who is a co-defendant in the lawsuit. Williams is accused of allowing the harassment to continue; he also declined to comment when reached by WCIA on Friday. Unlike Eisenhauer, Williams confirmed he was familiar with the lawsuit.
Thomason retired from his position in April 2019; Schnelle also resigned that same month.
By September 2019, the EEOC issued what’s called a “determination” about the city’s attempt to fire Robinson in 2018. In it, officials said “the evidence obtained in the investigation establishes reasonable cause to believe that Danville discriminated against (Robinson) because of her race, Black, by subjecting her to harassment and different terms and conditions of employment, and in retaliation for engaging in protected activity by further subjecting her to different terms and conditions of employment and by disciplining and discharging her.”
The lawsuit does request the awarding of damages, but it also asks that the court require Danville to “adopt and implement policies, procedures and practices that will curtail and eliminate discrimination and harassment based on race.” Another request asks the court to appoint an “independent monitor” to oversee the implementation of the proposed policies.
“What I think is significant is that Lisa Robinson was one of the only Black (administrative assistants) working for the city at the time that this happened,” Robinson’s lawyer, Kulwin, said Friday. “I think it’s significant that she was not protected. That seems to suggest that there’s a problem in Danville that needs to get fixed — both for Lisa and for the other Danville employees.”