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updated: 3/23/2011 11:24 PM

Gurnee-area woman claims discrimination for being white, Polish

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A woman claims in a federal discrimination lawsuit that being white and her Polish heritage were among the reasons she received unfair treatment before her firing at the Lake County Housing Authority.

Malgorzata Friedman, 41, who lives in Warren Township near Gurnee, filed the lawsuit last month in U.S. District Court. She worked at the agency as a certification specialist for slightly more than two years until her dismissal March 25, 2010.

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In a statement Wednesday, Lake County Housing Authority attorney James Best said Friedman was suspended for performance problems and insubordination being fired. There were other grounds for her dismissal, he said, and the agency expects to prevail in the lawsuit.

"That Ms. Friedman's employment was terminated for cause has been confirmed by the ruling of the Illinois Department of Employment Security in (her) attempt to collect unemployment benefits," Best said.

Documents filed by Roselle attorney Michael T. Smith claim Friedman was subjected to race discrimination because of the housing authority's "failure to treat her the same as nonwhite employees."

The suit contends the hostile work environment unreasonably interfered with terms and conditions of her employment. It doesn't provide specific dates or details for the alleged race discrimination.

Smith said he expects details to emerge through depositions and documentation as the case proceeds.

"I've indicated to my client I'd like a diary of dates and times," he said.

National origin discrimination also is claimed in the suit, which includes demands for more than $300,000 in damages from the housing authority, lost wages and benefits and reinstatement to her job.

Friedman complained to her bosses about not being treated the same as workers who weren't Polish regarding her work environment, discipline and performance standards, the federal complaint states.

Sexual discrimination occurred when immediate supervisors harassed and deliberately accused her of poor work for two years while men performed as well or worse, the lawsuit alleges.

Male employees purportedly enjoyed better terms and conditions of employment, court papers state. Friedman reportedly complained about the situation.

David Northern, the housing authority's executive director, is named with the quasi-governmental agency in the lawsuit. Friedman purportedly became a target for retaliation after Northern learned of her claims.

"Friedman made objections to the mismanagement of funds by Northern, which (she) believed violated the policy and procedures of the Lake County Housing Authority," the lawsuit states.

Northern issued a statement Wednesday to the Daily Herald., saying the accusations have no merit.

"At my level of leadership, there will be challenges like these meritless lawsuits," he said. "My focus remains on our staff, the 11,000-plus people we currently serve and the thousands of other needy citizens still waiting for assistance."

Headquartered near Grayslake, the authority handles public housing for much of Lake County. Northern reports to seven commissioners appointed by the Lake County Board chairman.

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