RACINE — An unofficial settlement has been reached in the federal lawsuit filed by a water utility employee against the City of Racine alleging racial and disability discrimination, but the agreement must be approved by the City Council before it is lawfully binding.

On Aug. 14, 2018, Racine Water Utility employee Endel Williams filed a civil action lawsuit against the city claiming that he was discriminated against due to his race and physical disability from an injury he sustained on the job.

According to court documents filed July 1, a mutual settlement agreement was reached on June 28 and executed on June 29, with terms stating that it would not be binding until it was approved by the City Council.

"Unfortunately, the city cannot call a special meeting before the scheduled July 16 date," a court document by city Attorney Scott Letteney stated. "Thus, the first date the Common Council could possibly review the settlement agreement and release and consider its approval is July 16, 2019."

On Tuesday, a city spokesperson said that a City Council Executive Committee meeting related to the settlement would be held in closed session on July 16 before the city Council meeting. The item will then be brought to the city Council later that night. 

The Journal Times also asked the city about the status of Williams' employment and details about the settlement, but that information was not provided.

Court documents show that Williams was placed on paid administrative leave in September 2017. As of Aug. 14, 2018, Williams remained on leave.

Discrimination allegations

Williams started working as a construction worker with the water utility in February 2007. According to court documents, Williams was told that his supervisor made racially derogatory remarks about him, such as referring to Williams as a “(n-word)” and the “Mayor’s Token (n-word).”

Williams claims that at that time, he made the utility's general manager aware of the racist remarks his supervisor made about him and other blacks in the workplace.

In the city's Sept. 24 answer to Williams' lawsuit, they claim that Williams was "erroneously informed by an unknown party" that his supervisor made racially derogatory remarks about him.

In August 2015, Williams said the general manager disciplined him for being insubordinate to his supervisor, to which Williams objected. Later that month, Williams lodged a complaint with the city alleging that the city had discriminated against him and harassed him due to his race.

In January 2016, Williams was disciplined again. He filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging the city had violated his Title VII rights.

After he filed the EEOC charges, Williams said the city retaliated by isolating him from co-workers, requiring him to perform the least desirable work, denying him the opportunity to work overtime and restricting his opportunities regarding new functions, duties and promotional opportunities.

The city's answer states that Williams did not go through the grievance process after his August 2015 discipline action, and said his January 2016 discipline was only a verbal reprimand, not an official discipline action.

The city denies that "the city actually discriminated or harassed Williams in any way or that Williams is entitled to any relief from the city for the claims asserted in Williams' complaint," court documents state.

Alleged ADA violations

In July 2016, Williams injured his shoulder while working for the city, and underwent surgery in August 2016. He later returned to work, performing light-duty work.

In approximately March 2017, Williams claimed that his supervisor told him to clean the inside of a basin. The task required Williams to climb a vertical ladder, something he said he could not do because of his shoulder.

In September 2017, Williams’ physician placed him on a permanent restriction from climbing ladders with the right arm. Later that month, the city put Williams on paid administrative leave.

Williams’ legal team argued that his disability would only affect his ability to climb a vertical ladder to clean the basins, which only occurs approximately three weeks each year. He said his request for “reasonable accommodation” was denied.

The city denied that Williams ever requested an accommodation that was limited to only cleaning the basins, and said it offered him sedentary work to do after he was placed on administrative leave.

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Alyssa Mauk covers breaking news and courts. She enjoys spending time with her family, video games, heavy metal music, watching YouTube videos, comic books and movies.

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