Pritzker staffers file lawsuit calling the campaign a "cesspool - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Pritzker staffers file lawsuit calling the campaign a "cesspool of racial discrimination"

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CHICAGO -- A major October surprise for J.B. Pritzker's gubernatorial campaign as 10 current and former staffers file a federal lawsuit claiming they have been racially discriminated against while working for the campaign.

The lawsuit alleges minority staffers were passed over for promotion, put in unsafe working conditions and intimidated if they tried to report harassment.

The lawsuit come with less than three weeks to go until election day.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs describe a culture of discrimination in Pritzker’s campaign, calling it a "cesspool of racial discrimination and harassment."

"I think its troubling, these allegations are serious, they need to be investigated," said Governor Bruce Rauner, Pritzker’s Republican opponent in next month’s election.

He called the allegations unsurprising, citing a 2008 phone call with Rod Blagojevich where Pritzker made racially insensitive comments about African American politicians.

"He used the language of racists in that phone call and he was on tape using the language of racists," Rauner said.

In a statement, Pritzker said, "To be clear, this is just not true. I am incredibly proud of our campaign, how diverse it is, and how inclusive our administration will be.”

Among the allegations, the campaign herded minority workers into race-specific positions and funneled them into majority-minority neighborhoods with unsafe working conditions. 

The lawsuit says one campaign office was located in an area where shootings, robberies and other crimes were common, and when an alderman offered free use another space in a safer location, it claims the campaign denied the move. 

When staffers at the location asked why Pritzker didn’t come to their office, it alleges they were told he’d visit when “they stop shooting.”

The lawsuit also claims minority staffers were routinely passed over for promotions and intimidated into not reporting incidents of discrimination and harassment.

A former Pritzker campaign worker, who resigned earlier this year after Pritzker's remarks about the African American politicians became public, backed the lawsuit’s allegations in an extensive Facebook post. 

Kina Collins said during her time working for the campaign, mid and senior level leadership did nothing to combat the culture of discrimination, adding that voting for JB is voting for a Democratic version of President Donald Trump. 

The Pritzker campaign released a letter from the plaintiffs' attorney that demanded a $7.5 million settlement by Monday, October 8.

In a statement, Pritzker's running mate Juliana Stratton, who is African American likened the allegations as a shakedown attempt by the plaintiffs. 

When people feel like they have been harassed or discriminated against, they have the right to come forward and have their voices heard," Stratton said. "In this case, we had a letter delivered to us asking for $7.5 million dollars in 24 hours or they threatened legal action and to go to press. That’s not a good faith effort. The incidents listed in this complaint are baseless and make offensive claims in regard to several members of our staff. We stand by our staff and that’s why we are not afraid to litigate this to the fullest extent of the law."

In a statement, Illinois Republican Party Executive Director Travis Sterling said, “The lawsuit filed against JB Pritzker’s campaign is simply the latest in a long line of incidents that prove that when it comes to the African-American community, Pritzker’s actions don’t back up his words. Here, we have his own staffers — seasoned political operatives — alleging racial discrimination and harassment. We have heard from Pritzker’s own mouth referring to Black elected officials as “offensive” on an FBI wiretap with Rod Blagojevich. It’s finally time for JB Pritzker to answer for his actions.”

You can view the full lawsuit below.

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