CHICAGO (CBS) — For the first time, campaign staffers who have accused the J.B. Pritzker campaign of racial discrimination went before cameras on Monday to detail their allegations against the Democratic candidate for governor.
The staffers filed their lawsuit against the campaign last week, three weeks before the November election, but didn’t speak out until Monday, at a press conference at their attorney’s office in Bronzeville.
The Pritzker campaign has denied the allegations, calling them “baseless” and “offensive,” and produced a letter from the plaintiffs’ attorney, showing they demanded a $7.5 million settlement within one day, or threatened to sue.
The staffers said it’s important to clear their names against allegations of extortion.
They were joined by former staffers, their attorneys, and supporters as they accused Pritzker and his running mate, Julianna Stratton, of a pattern of racial discrimination.
They staffers said African American and Latino workers were put up in dirty hotels, and forced to work in dangerous, bug- and rodent-infested offices. They said their views were not taken seriously, and they were routinely passed over for promotions. The campaign has noted none of the plaintiffs worked for the campaign for more than a few months.
Field organizers for the Pritzker campaign are paid about $3,500 a month, but they said their lawsuit isn’t about the $7.5 million they’re seeking in damages.
“This is about justice, which has no price tag. I don’t have to be mistreated or abused by anyone, and I will not allow that. This fight is bigger than me. This is a fight that my children will be fighting if I do not fight,” Celia Colon said.
“Yes, the campaign hired black and brown employees. However, our black and brownness remains a fundamental category of disempowerment within the campaign,” fellow Pritzker field organizer Maxwell Little said.
The lawsuit filed in federal court last week claims the campaign “herded” African-American and Latino campaign workers into minority neighborhoods on the South Side and West Side, and often forced them to work in unsafe locations.
The group of ten campaign workers who filed the suit also claim they were not offered meaningful opportunities for advancement given to white campaign workers.
“JB Pritzker for Governor has a serious race problem. Contrary to the candidate’s many public avowals, rather than working to meaningfully address discrimination, racism is perpetuated, condoned, and ratified by the Campaign,” the lawsuit alleges. “The JB Prtizker for Governor campaign has been cesspool of racial discrimination and harassment.”
According to the lawsuit, one of Pritzker’s campaign offices was located next door to a store that was robbed twice in a week, and where “a young woman was raped outside their back door; and a gunfight took place right outside their office,” all in broad daylight.
One campaign staffer, identified in the lawsuit as Kasmine Calhoun, claims she was hired as the only black organizer in Peoria, in order to meet a “Black Female organizer quota.” She also claims she was told she would stay with a family who was friendly to the campaign, but they wouldn’t let her in when they found out she was black.
Calhoun claimed the campaign later put her up in a hotel “in an unsafe part of town,” and staffers refused to move her to a safer location.
The Pritzker campaign has provided multiple receipts to show Calhoun was put up in several different hotels.
In a statement Monday morning, Pritzker campaign spokeswoman Galia Slayen said there is no basis for the allegations in the lawsuit. She also said the campaign has not yet been served with the lawsuit, which was filed last week. The campaign plans to ask a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, but cannot do so until it is formally served.
“Everything about the way this has been handled, from the threat to sue unless a $7.5 million dollar payment was made to the fact that their lawyer seems far more interested in conducting interviews and holding press conferences than even serving necessary papers that would allow the case to be dismissed, tell you all you need to know. JB and Juliana are proud of the diverse and inclusive campaign they are running.”