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updated: 5/30/2014 10:40 AM

Naperville investigating employee's discrimination claims

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Naperville officials are investigating complaints by a former employee who alleges discrimination, inappropriate comments toward women and minorities, and improper treatment of workers occurred in the city's human resources department.

An internal investigation and an outside probe led by attorney Terry Ekl and his Warrenville firm have been launched as a result of a memo the former employee sent as she was quitting her job May 2, said Jill Wilger, assistant legal director for the city.

The memo outlines concerns the employee, who resigned, had with two male supervisors in the human resources department who she says displayed "derogatory, degrading, demeaning and sometimes discriminatory behavior."

One of those supervisors resigned May 14, city spokeswoman Linda LaCloche said Thursday. The other is still employed by the city.

Wilger said the city is not aware of any lawsuits or other action taken by the former employee who outlined her concerns in the May 2 memo. According to the memo, the former employee, who worked for eight years in human resources, brought forward her concerns about the two supervisors in early March, but her issues with leadership began even earlier.

"Over these past eight years, I have tolerated a string of appalling excuses for HR leadership," the former employee wrote in the memo.

The memo includes a long list of complaints ranging from name-calling, bullying and "disgusting commentary about women," to ordering employees to disobey the city manager and discouraging women from seeking promotions.

The former employee says in the memo she brought complaints about the supervisors to City Manager Doug Krieger in April. The city began looking into the complaints and had an investigator meet with the woman.

The three-page memo also raises concerns about the handling of the employee's performance review. It accuses Krieger of not responding in a timely manner to her appeal of her review and at times saying inappropriate things or talking "about employees in less than respectful ways."

City council members said Krieger made them aware of the memo almost immediately after he received it.

"Doug Krieger is doing an excellent job. When this situation came up, he responded to it quickly and thoroughly," council member Joseph McElroy said. "He's doing everything right."

Council member Doug Krause said the fact the former employee provided her name with the memo lends credence to her complaints and demands a thorough investigation. The former employee's name was redacted from a copy of the memo provided to the Daily Herald through the Freedom of Information Act and city officials have not named her.

City officials said an external investigation led by Ekl is being conducted because some of the allegations involve Krieger, and no one in the city's legal department can be expected to perform an unbiased investigation into the actions of their boss. The city is paying Ekl $250 an hour and his associates $200 an hour up to a maximum of $5,000 to conduct the investigation, LaCloche said.

Krieger said he cannot respond to allegations against him in the former employee's memo because of the ongoing investigation. He said he is "fully cooperating" with the probe.

"I'm looking forward to the outcome of it," Krieger said. "I take the allegations very, very seriously. I started the investigations immediately."

Krause and other city council members said they are awaiting results of the investigations so changes can be made if harassment against women and minorities or other inappropriate behavior is determined to have occurred.

"I'm disappointed to see that activity went on, especially in the HR department, which is supposed to provide the resources to other departments to prevent harassment and discriminatory conduct of all sorts," council member Robert Fieseler said.

McElroy said Naperville's elected officials agree "an atmosphere of sexual harassment is not appropriate and it should be thoroughly investigated." But he questioned whether the actions the former employee mentions really could have happened in a department that was led by Margo Ely, who had been the city's director of legal, human resources and risk management until she left the city in early April.

"I found it very difficult to imagine that a HR department under the direction of Margo Ely would have tolerance for sexual harassment," McElroy said. "It's hard to believe she would tolerate that sort of atmosphere."

City officials said they expect the internal and external investigations into employee conduct to conclude in about two weeks.

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