Two workers claim Oak Park discriminated

In separate suits, village government accused of discrimination based on religion, sexuality

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Two employees — one former, the other current — are suing Oak Park Village Hall, claiming they were discriminated against. One claims the discrimination was based on religion, the other on sexuality.

Both complaints were filed Nov. 12 in the law division of the Cook County Circuit Court, and both cases were previously dismissed by the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

Maintenance man Michael Aguayo alleges that, since November 2007, he has been harassed by other village employees for being homosexual. Others would refer to things that didn't work as "being gay" and told Aguayo to "come outside and settle this like men," according to the complaint.

Aguayo, 45 and a Lombard resident, claims the village failed to take action when the alleged harassment took place, and that he later received "unfounded" write ups and verbal reprimands. He also alleges that he lost duties and was later demoted.

The continued harassment caused Aguayo to suffer "extreme mental anguish" and "painful embarrassment," according to the complaint.

Aguayo is asking a judge to grant him an injunction against the village to stop the harassment, along with lost pay, medical expenses, attorney fees and other damages.

Reached last week, Aguayo said the harassment is still taking place at village hall. He was originally hired in May 2001, but says that he didn't start getting harassed until November 2007, when Aguayo made Public Works Director John Wielebnicki aware of his sexuality. He says the main reason for filing the suit was to stop the alleged harassment.

"If it wasn't for my union, I would have quit a long time ago and not put myself through the anguish of working at this place and having nobody do anything to protect me," Aguayo said, declining to say how his union helped him.

In the other complaint, former village employee Shawnya Robinson alleges that she was wrongfully terminated by the village because of her religion.

Robinson, a Jehovah's Witness, was hired as a representative in the village's community relations department in February 2005. But in September 2009, her position was eliminated as part of budget cuts.

She was then shifted into a position in the village clerk's office. At the time, Robinson allegedly told the village clerk that she could not perform some of her duties because of her religion — specifically registering either voters or domestic partners.

Village Clerk Teresa Powell allegedly agreed to exempt Robinson from those duties. But just three days after she started, the deputy village clerk allegedly told Robinson that her exemption was causing "low morale" among workers in the clerk's office. The village then allegedly fired Robinson later that day because of the accommodation.

Robinson is asking that she be reinstated to her position, or be paid for the lost work, and that she also be paid attorney fees and other damages. Powell claims that Robinson quit and was in fact not fired.

"She's a lovely person and I'm sorry things have come to this pass." Powell said.

Village Attorney Ray Heise said Monday that the village does not comment on personnel-related matters. In the rulings from the Department of Human Rights, the village denied claims made in both suits. The department dismissed both claims based on a lack of substantial evidence.

Reader Comments

15 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2010 7:24 PM

Jeff, I stated up front that I knew nothing about her religious beliefs or her job with the Village Clerk Office. All I know is what I saw in her job with Community Relations. I made to post to provide some perspective not to take sides.

Really?  

Posted: November 18th, 2010 5:10 PM

She was not being asked to actually vote or enter into a domestic partnership herself, just to process some forms. Maybe public service isn't a good line of work for one with such intolerant beliefs.

Jeff from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2010 4:41 PM

Are you serious John Murtagh? You are impressed and she is a total professional? The Village tried to keep this person employed and she refused to do the work required, it is that simple. Her religious views are beside the point and a lame excuse. She does not need you to apologize for her prejudice. Please show me a job that personal morals are not emcumbered.

Rochelle Curry from Chicago  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 7:15 PM

From info elsewhere seems as though she was placed in dept. after being cut from a job she actually DID apply for instead of being forced into one in clerk's office. with today's economy who can really walk away from a job?

a grown up from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 3:09 PM

For those employees suffering from bad morale because a co-worker was excused from 2 tasks, I'd suggest that you grow up and actually perform your own job.

Really?  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 1:57 PM

Seems like registering voters and domestic partnerships are among the fundamental tasks of the clerk's office. If your beliefs prohibit you from handling these things, don't take the job.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 12:51 PM

I have no knowledge of Shawnya Robinson religious beliefs or the personnel issues she has with the village. While on the Community Relations Commission I found her to be an excellent administrator who was always positive and responsive. I was impressed by the organizational skills in supporting the planning of Day in Our Village and her representation of the village in providing support on the day of the event. She is a total professional with a great sense of public service.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 11:23 AM

Sorry, my previous post was sent to the wrong blog subject.

Genndy from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 11:02 AM

Chivalry was dead in the 20th Century. Shame is dead in this century.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 10:59 AM

Couldn't agree more with Ray Johnson and Hedges. We need local government to return to solving local problems and not concentrating on global, national, and not spending time and energy on metropolitan area problems. Let's do great things in OP first.

sick of the bias  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 10:49 AM

Some job requirements include things like "must be able to lift a 30 lb. box." Job requirements should be addressed BEFORE someone is hired.Re: Mom's comment: Why is one religious belief acceptable while another is not. You should know that not participating in voting is a tenet of Jehovah's Witnesses' beliefs. Why is the discrimination against gay couples for religious reasons acceptable, while other aspects of the faith are not acceptable to you? It is wrong in the public sector. 765432

TW from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 10:30 AM

Since it's a state law not to ask your relegious or sexual preferences during the interview process when seeking employment. Therefore, it sets the table for these sort of issues. Once any concerns are known, just like disabilities or being bullied you must take some sort of action. Diveristy goes both ways, when apprciating someones differnces is a double edge sword.

MJB from oak park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 10:16 AM

Can someone sue a building?? Sorry to play English teacher, but isn't the Willage of Oak Prk being sued, not "Village Hall"? This suit potentially impacts all of us taxpayers, so its important to get it right.

Joe from Oak Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 10:15 AM

I agree with MOM. I would like to know how she was hired in the Human Relations Department in the first place? If she can't objectively deal with all the citizens of Oak Park then she should not be working at Village Hall in any capacity.

Mom from Forest Park  

Posted: November 17th, 2010 9:55 AM

She can't register voters? I get the part about not registering domestic partnerships (although I don't agree.) I don't think they will ultimately prevail since both were dismissed by Human Rights.

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