Tollway employee disciplined after hanging rope

Updated 3/26/2023 7:21 AM

Illinois tollway officials said Friday they had taken disciplinary action against an employee who hung a rope from the ceiling of a maintenance facility in August 2022.

The employee, who attached a bottle of lotion to the end of the rope and taped a photo of a character from "Silence of the Lambs" to the ceiling, characterized his actions as a joke referencing the movie.


However, other co-workers were shocked, calling it "despicable, threatening, and frightfully intimidating behavior," records showed.

Tollway leaders said they began an investigation shortly after employees lodged complaints about the occurrence at the facility in Alsip.

"As a result of the review and input from employees involved in this incident, the tollway took disciplinary action consistent with the collective bargaining agreement and currently is involved in an arbitration regarding its action," officials said in a statement.

The photo depicted the actor playing serial killer Buffalo Bill, who in the 1991 movie kidnaps a young woman and holds her captive in a pit. The employee explained that in one scene, the actor lowers a basket on a rope containing lotion and orders the terrified woman to put it on.

His actions were "an attempt to play a joke with co-worker ... based off prior jokes we shared on shift," the employee said in a statement to a supervisor.

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For numerous co-workers, the hanging rope and its connection with racism and violence against Blacks provoked outrage and fear.

"The overall consensus is that the hanging of the rope, whether it was meant as a joke or not, is offensive and that insensitivity or horseplay was not received as being funny by the staff," a manager reported.

One worker wrote that "evidently (he) thought it was perfectly all right to tie a rope around the neck of an object and hang it from the ceiling of a common area for all to see. Unfortunately for me, it triggered and resonated extreme fear within. I am struggling to contain not only the sight of this, but how to explain it to my children and family."

Another worker wrote: "I thought it was thoughtless, distasteful, insensitive and totally inconsiderate regardless of the intent."

Illinois tollway Executive Director Cassaundra Rouse said she takes employee complaints seriously and works "to support a culture of respect and inclusivity, where people do not hesitate to report misconduct and where there are clear consequences for engaging in harassment.

"I am committed to continuing to invest in that inclusive workplace," she said.

The employee is an equipment operator laborer who earned $89,000 in 2022, according to state records.

Tollway officials said they could not disclose additional details regarding the case until arbitration and related issues were resolved.

The agency "does not tolerate actions that may create a hostile work environment and investigates all claims relating to the work space and environment it provides."

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