A municipal employee of South suburban Country Club Hills has filed a lawsuit alleging that the city’s mayor and former city manager humiliated and discriminated against him because he’s gay.
The lawsuit was filed by Robert “Tony” Harper, 46, who was hired as assistant theater director in 2007 and was later promoted to the city’s marketing director. Currently, he works in the water department after being transferred through three different roles, he said.
The suit, filed July 31 in Cook County Circuit Court, names current Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch and former city manager, Henrietta Turner.
Harper alleges that Turner harassed him every day starting around May of 2008 until about when her position was eliminated by the city council July 13, 2011. Throughout that time period, Turner allegedly sexually harassed Harper, asking him not to be “too gay,” used derogatory words like “faggot” and “bitch” and that she had a toilet seat sent to his work desk, later informing his c0-workers “He’s carrying it because he likes to play in shit,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit also alleges that Turner announced to Harper’s co-workers that he was not invited to city events because she only wanted to invite people she could date, according to the complaint.
“She said whatever she wanted to say to anybody when she wanted to say it,” Harper said in an interview with Chicago Phoenix. “It was nerve-wracking.”
In addition to his charges of sexual harassment, Harper claims that he and his then-partner, James Abernathy, who was also a Country Club Hills employee were harassed after they asked for domestic partner insurance benefits from the city in October 2010. Turner refused to approve their request, repeatedly saying “I told his ass no” and becoming visibly angry over the subject when she asked Harper to talk to her about it in her office, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges that Welch dismissed Harper’s and Abernathy’s claims of harassment from Turner, and told them that they should bring their claims to her because they were to be handled by the city manager. In response, Turner said that Harper would be “sent to Siberia” if any other allegations were made, read the lawsuit.
In January 2011, Harper filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, in which he recalls discussing his benefits request with Welch. Welch ultimately denied the request, calling it “silly stuff” that he didn’t want going on during an election, the suit alleges.
Thirteen days after the human rights complaint was filed, Welch demoted Harper from director of marketing to “administrative assistant” in front of several co-workers. The lawsuit claims that his demotion was retaliation for the complaint he filed. The move came without the knowledge or consent of the city council, and his new role had him working from a cubical at Meadowview Middle School without a phone, computer, copier or business cards. He was also instructed to break up fights among students at the school and work in the childcare program.
Harper says that he was also moved back to the theater department and then to the water department since the complaint.
In recent months, Harper has attempted to set up two meeting with Welch, but he refuses to meet and doesn’t acknowledge Harper’s presence when they see each other in passing at work, he said. “He just walks right passed me,” Harper added.
“They didn’t care about my sexual orientation when I had to pay my property taxes, or my water bill, or my electric bill,” Harper said. “I don’t know how they can sleep at night.”
The seven-count lawsuit seeks more than $5.4 million in total damages for the claims of sexual harassment, discriminatory retaliation and an additional count claiming he was forced to engage in political activity.
Messages left with the offices of both Welch and Turner, who is now the village manager of Sauk Village, on Tuesday have not yet been returned.