Retaliation, mayoral meddling alleged in City Colleges case

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Mayor Richard M. Daley, who figures prominently in a City Colleges discrimination lawsuit. | Credit: Lindsay Beyerstein, via <a href='http://www.flickr.com/photos/majikthise/'>Flickr</a>
  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • July 24, 2009 @ 6:00 AM
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Judge Yolande Bourgeois | Credit: Courtesy Photo

The departing City Colleges of Chicago chancellor attempted to force out subordinates who lodged ethics complaints and was pressured by the Mayor's Office to hire a Hispanic candidate for a top job, says a Cook County judge who formerly served as the colleges' chief counsel.

The judge, Yolande Bourgeois, is a witness in a federal race discrimination lawsuit brought by a former City Colleges employee. A transcript of Bourgeois' testimony during a deposition was included in documents filed in court this week.

The plaintiff in that case, Ramona Shaw, says she was fired from her HR management job in retaliation for raising concerns about racial discrimination.  She also alleges she was passed over for a promotion because she was black and the Mayor's office wanted a Hispanic in the top HR post instead. The City Colleges has said she was fired for insubordination.

The district ultimately hired Xiomara Cortés Metcalfe for the job.

Shaw has testified that Watson told her and another person that he needed to name a Hispanic HR director. Bourgeois testified that Watson told her the same thing.

"During 2003, when Watson selected (Xiomara) Cortés Metcalfe for the Vice Chancellor position, he was meeting regularly with the Mayor," the documents say.

Bourgeois also testified that she lost her job because she filed a state ethics complaint about a separate instance of racial discrimination at the district. 

In September 2006, she wrote a letter to the state’s Office of the Executive Inspector General about an incident in which Xiomara Cortes Metcalfe allegedly referred to an underling as a “motherf----r”. That employee, who was black, complained that a supervisor disciplined him but didn't act against a Hispanc employee who had committed a similar infraction. 

But after Bourgeois told Watson about that and another problem, Watson started treating her differently.

“He basically stopped communicating with me. He wouldn’t talk to me. He used to come down to my office numerous times, he stopped coming back there,” Bourgeois said in her deposition. “It was like I was persona non grata.”

By late November 2006, Bourgeois said in her deposition, board members started pressuring her to take a severance package and step down.

When she asked why the district was trying to push her out, according to the deposition, Board Chairman Jim Tyree told her it was because “Ramona Shaw and I had conspired against Xiomara, and that was the reason I had to go.”

Tyree did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.

Bourgeois said she was “flabbergasted” when another board member offered her six months of severance to step down, at the same time that she was applying for the judgeship.

“Nobody had asked me, nobody had told me, ‘either resign or you will be terminated,’ but it had been suggested that I resign,” Bourgeois said in her deposition.

Ultimately, she testified, she was placed on leave but allowed to keep her title for a few more months, until she received the judgeship.

Bourgeois said it was widely known that people who voiced concerns about ethical complaints would lose Watson’s trust.

“Basically, he can’t trust you if you are not loyal to him, then he has no use for you.”

In 2007, the Chicago Council of Lawyers described Bourgeois as someone with “broad litigation experience” and an “excellent” temperament.

“Attorneys report that Ms. Bourgeois has very good legal ability and is hard working,” the evaluation said.

Fern Trevino, who is Shaw’s attorney, says the evidence highlights broader problems inside the City Colleges.

“There was a culture of retaliation against people who engaged in the protected activity of complaining,” Trevino says, including “retaliation for opposing discrimination.”

The City Colleges does not comment on pending litigation, district spokeswoman Elsa Tullos says. Watson and Bourgeois did not return calls for comment.

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.

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