ILLINOIS (WCIA) — 20-days before election day and JB Pritzker’s campaign is being sued by it’s own staffers for racial discrimination. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Chicago. All the plaintiffs are black or Latinx.
They claim they’ve been overworked, denied benefits and not given equal opportunities as their white counterparts.
The Pritzker campaign calls the allegations baseless, untrue and made in bad faith.
Both the Pritzker campaign and Shay Allen, an attorney for the ten staffers, confirm a letter was sent to the political organization Friday, Oct. 5th. It included a long list of demands to settle the dispute privately, those included: requests to appoint a head of Diversity for the campaign and $7.5 million in damages.
The campaign was given 3 days to respond. Allen says talked to campaign officials over the phone Monday and Tuesday but were unable to resolve the issue. Later on Tuesday, the Pritzker campaign sent a letter confirming they would not comply with demands. As a result, a week later on Oct. 16th the lawsuit was filed.
The ten-page document states staffers were forced to work in unsafe environments, were denied opportunities and were overall valued less than white staffers.
Pritzker’s running mate, Julianna Stratton, an African-American woman, was first to come to Pritzker’s defense. She says the campaign was given just 24-hours to respond to the $7.5 million demand and calls the accusations “baseless.”
“We stand by our staff and that’s why we are not afraid to litigate this to the fullest extent of the law,” says Stratton.
Governor Bruce Rauner also weighed in Wednesday.
“I think it’s troubling, these allegations are serious they need to be investigated and I think the people of Illinois deserve to know the truth about Mr. Pritzker’s action,” said Rauner.
Rauner says he’s “not surprised” to hear accusations, in fact he says “this fits a pattern.”
The suit mentions a conversation between Pritzker and former Governor Rod Blagojevich. During the exchange Pritzker is recorded calling an African-American politician “crass.” That FBI tape was later run in a Rauner attack ad.
When reporters asked about a potential connection, Rauner denied he had anything to do with the lawsuit filed.
Allen who calls himself a “card holding Democrat” says his decision was not politically motivated.
“I’m a civil rights attorney first, so when people’s rights are violated you have to fight for it no matter what,” says Allen.
Pritzker hosted an event Wednesday alongside Senator Kwame Raoul and Secretary of State Jesse White. Press were not informed of the event.
The campaign did not offer further explanation for accusations made in the suit, for instance, why a cultural competency training was held in September.
Allen contends the point of the initial letter was to merely start a conversation. He says Stratton and Pritzker’s response is “disappointing” but believes it “further exemplifies how staffers were treated, they were ignored.”
Now that the suit has been made public he says 5 to 10 more former disgruntled minority staffers could join in.
Champaign County Board member James Tinsely is one of the 10 plaintiffs suing Pritzker’s campaign, but declined to comment at this time.