RACINE — A water utility employee who alleged racial and disability discrimination in a federal lawsuit against the city is set to receive $150,000 for himself, another $50,000 for his legal team and is scheduled to return to work on Monday, according to the terms of a settlement approved on Tuesday.
Racine Water Utility employee Endel Williams filed a civil action lawsuit against the city on Aug. 14, 2018, claiming he was discriminated against due to his race and a physical disability from an injury he sustained on the job.
According to court documents, a tentative settlement agreement was reached on June 28 which required City Council approval. On Tuesday, the Executive Committee and Wastewater Commission met in closed session to discuss the agreement. When the committee and commission returned to open session, they voted to move the agreement along to the City Council with a recommendation to approve. Alderman Jeff Coe of the First District was the sole vote in opposition.
The Council, which met that evening, gave the final vote to approve the settlement, with Coe and Alderman Sandy Weidner providing the sole votes in opposition. Aldermen Natalia Taft, Carrie Glenn and Tracey Larrin were not present for the vote.
In addition to the financial compensation Williams and his legal team will receive, the settlement included conditions for his return to his position as a utility construction worker, which has been scheduled for Monday, July 22. Williams has been on paid administrative leave since September 2017.
The settlement states that the utility will accommodate Williams’ work restrictions derived from an injury to his right shoulder.
Williams will also not be supervised, “in any way” by the supervisor he named in his lawsuit for allegedly discriminating against Williams due to his race. The settlement also specified that supervisor will also be reassigned within the department to a different shift.
Within 30 days, Williams will meet with Racine Water and Wastewater General Manager Keith Haas in order to discuss Williams’, “concerns regarding his past workplace experience with (supervisor) and the city, to discuss Williams’ return to work and Haas’s and Williams’ respective expectations upon Williams’ return to work and thereafter.”
Williams’ personnel file will be expunged of all reprimands and discipline prior to the settlement.
The city will provide diversity training for Water Utility employees and management. The utility will also expand its suggestion box, which is currently used for safety matters, to include employment-related issues as well.
In exchange, Williams and his legal team are to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice. Williams is not to further discuss the facts of the case.
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.