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Preschool Teachers Claim Race Harassment In Joliet

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JOLIET, Ill. (STMW) — Two women have filed a lawsuit accusing several employees at a southwest suburban Joliet preschool of racial discrimination and harassment.

In the lawsuit, filed Feb. 22 in Will County court, Diana L. Parker and Sharon E. Gormley, who both are white, claim some of their black co-workers and supervisors at St. John’s Head Start Center, 403 N. Hickory St., created a racially hostile work environment and illegally fired them. The center is operated by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Joliet.

The women are seeking more than $50,000 in back pay with interest, front pay and damages from Catholic Charities.

Gormley was hired by Catholic Charities as a teacher and assigned to the school in January 2012, according to the lawsuit. During the week of March 5, 2012, Gormley complained to human resources about racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation, but the HR coordinator refused to take action, the lawsuit states.

Gormley took her complaints to Catholic Charities’ corporate officer, who promised her a meeting. Her supervisors cancelled the meeting without explanation, the lawsuit states.

An employee nicknamed “Grandma” threatened Gormley with physical violence, the lawsuit said. Her supervisors refused to take action against “Grandma,” refused to give Gormley her real name so she could file a police complaint and threatened to fire Gormley for wanting to report the incident, the lawsuit says.

Gormley was suspended on March 28, 2012 because of her race and in retaliation for her complaints, the lawsuit states.

Parker, who also worked at St. John’s as a teacher, said she made multiple complaints about racial harassment from co-workers. Parker complained to her supervisor and human resources that a teaching assistant made racial comments to her, threatened her safety and endangered the safety of the children at the school on March 9, 2012. She asked for a transfer to another facility.

A human resources representative told her a meeting would be scheduled on her complaint, but she received a letter from her supervisor four days later falsely saying she had resigned, effective March 9, the lawsuit claims. Parker said she never quit her job.

Attorney Brian Graber, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Parker and Gormley, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“We have only recently received the complaint and are still evaluating it,” said Glenn Van Cura, executive director of the Catholic Charities of Joliet. “However, I can assure you that the agency does not engage in discrimination or any other improper conduct.”

The first hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for June 12.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)