Evanston aldermen Monday are scheduled to approve a $500,000 payment to former Public Works Director Suzette Robinson to settle an employment discrimination suit she filed after she was dismissed from her city job.

Robinson, who now is chief operations officer for the District of Columbia Department of Transportation, alleged in her suit that City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar and Human Resources Division Manager Jennifer Lin discriminated and retaliated against her in a chain of events that led to her dismissal in August 2015.

The suit was initially filed in May 2016. In January, Federal District Judge Sara Ellis dismissed many of the claims, but allowed Robinson’s attorney to file a second amended complaint, and Ellis in June rejected a dismissal motion on those claims.

Robinson, as recounted by Judge Ellis in her June ruling, said that the problem started in May 2014 when she completed a performance evaluation of the city manager in which she claimed he treated members of the city’s African American community and its African American employees poorly.

That fall, Robinson said, Bobkiewicz publicly reprimanded her in front of other department employees and falsely told at least two of her subordinates that she was seeking to leave her position.

She then filed a Healthy Work Environment Complaint against Bobkiewicz, which was investigated by Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons, who, she says, sustained three of the complaints she’d made, and led Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl to issue a written reprimand to Bobkiewicz.

In the early months of 2015, Robinson said, she noticed other signs of discriminatory behavior and sent a demand letter to the city, to which Farrar replied that she had also been the subject of numerous Healthy Work Environment Complaints.

(Robinson this year was sued in state court by a former public works employee who claimed Robinson had harassed her.)

In late April 2015, Robinson filed a discrimination complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

After that, she says, Farrar and Lin set out to fabricate work environment complaints against her.

In May 2015 Bobkiewicz announced plans for an examination of the public works and utilities departments that he anticipated would lead to creation of a new, combined unit.

And then in August, Bobkiewicz announced that he was terminating her position and combining the two departments, a move that was approved by the City Council the next month.

Bobkiewicz has denied that race or retaliation had any role in his decision-making.

The settlement agreement will require Robinson to dismiss all claims against the individual defendants and the city and notes that the settlement is not an admission of liability.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. salary deduction?

    Take that $500 K, add in Ms. Williams $110 K, and deduct those amounts from the city manager’s pay!  

    1. Settlement

      When will the elected officials catch on to Wally? I can’t wait to see the reaction when the age discrimination lawsuits start rolling in. Maybe a class action suit?

      1. old-timers…bye-bye!

        I’m sure that will happen…..He wouldn’t have to consolidate all the time if he knew how to run the city and budget correctly.   He has a habit of getting his cronies in…and gets rid of good people who know their jobs.   Great managing…NOT!  Too bad the council renewed him yet again….they’ll never “get it”, pbviously.

        1. Robinson’s performance

          I am no Wally supporter but  getting rid of Robinson was the ONE good thing Wally has done.

          She was in way over her head.

          Yard waste, transportation, Penny Park, there were numerous projects where Public Works made poor decisions and she was an ineffective communicator to say the least.

          Just a few months before the reorganization she was interviewed for a job in Minnesota. So her commitment to the city was already suspect.  We only know about the Minnesota job because her name circulated in the media.  Who knows how many other places she applied to.

          I think it would be pretty easy to show that the reorganization and firing was done due to poor performance, so it is strange that they are settling with her.

          Amazed she was hired in a city as big as DC, quite frankly.

          1. Your logic ain’t logical. The

            Your logic ain’t logical. The only reason companies…or cities…settle lawsuits for one amount is that they believe they’ll have to pay more if the case goes to trial. In other words, innocent parties don’t pay up no matter what the legal documents they sign might say. So if you don’t believe Robinson was a victim of discrimination, the attorneys who represent Evanston apparently believe a judge or jury would come to a different, and more expensive, conclusion.

          2. that is incorrect
            companies often settle lawsuits bc the attorneys fees they will incur to fight are more than the settlement amount. it innocents parties pay all the time.

          3. Incorrect
            Organizations do regularly settle when they believe themselves to be innocent. It’s the legal fees, not fear of being found liable. If they “win” the case they still lost all the money spent defending the city and they won’t recoup it.

          4. Two incorrects don’t a right

            Correct me if i’m wrong (NEWS FLASH), but dosen’t the city have salaried attorneys on staff who could fight this in court at no cost to the taxpayers?  Personaly, I don’t believe the city would employ anyone who has a histoty of personal discrimination.

          5. Outside counsel

            The city hired outside counsel to defend this suit … presumably at least in part because its corporation counsel was named as a defendant.

            So the meter was running.

            — Bill

          6. The cost of
            Ummmm Derrick…the cost of hours worked to staff the case, even for salaried employees, has a numerical value as well. Even if the city’s attorneys defend the city the hours of preparation are a cost to the city as the attorneys are compensated for their time spent. The city is also paying associated court costs and fees, not to mention resources. Do you not realize that cities with law departments still outsource legal work?

          7. Right or wrong it hurts

            Yes it may be cheaper  in the short run. But when the city or a company really believes they  are innocent and have a good case but settles, people think they to might get a settlement even if there is no basis. Think of suits over patents or lawsuits over medical/accident cases that should never have gone anywhere or been tossed out–and claimant having to pay the costs.

            Of course if truely guilty no settlement should be made by court and the case go to trial.


          8. The legal fees  add to the

            The legal fees  add to the city’s exposure, especially if it’s a long drawn out fight. But there are no legal fees if you’re in the right and you win the case. So, as I said, the city’s counsel obviously thought there was some exposure here and thaty the city had some culpability. You don’t settle if it’s a black and white case (no pun intended) and you’re at no risk of losing. 

          9. Sorry, that’s not correct

            I’m not taking sides on this imbroglio, but just want to clarify that under the U.S. court system, if the defendant (City of Evanston in this case) is the prevailing party, they typically don’t get to recoup their legal expenses from the non-prevailing party — in other countries, this is not the case.  There are rare or infrequent exceptions to this, e.g., if the judge believes the complaint was frivolous; or if there is a contract and the contract has a provision that the non-prevailing party reimburses the other for their legal expenses.

            Neither of those exceptions seem relevant in this case.  So, even if the City wins the litigation (which can also be appealed), it will have to pay its external counsel.  So the economic calculus may direct the City to settle rather than undergo a costly pyrrhic victory.

          10. But it encourages more suits
            Yes it can be expensive but unless cities fight ones they are sure they can win, people will assume that they might be able to get money out of the city by winning or a settlement.
            We see that all the time in civil cases that should be thrown out but are not. Reminds me of the movie “The Mouse that Roared.”
            On another related topic, when someone is robbed or worse assaulted and refuses to press charges, it only lets the criminal off and feeling they can do it again. I realize there can be fear and trauma for the victim, but what about the next victim. Unfortunately the justice system seems to require a victim press charges and testify [correct ?] instead of the police being able to still put the criminal through the justice system.

          11. It does encourage more suits
            It does encourage more suits and this is not a new phenomenon. It happens all over the country on a regular basis.

            On the other note you made…I get your frustration with guilty criminals being set free however there is a good reason we have a constitutional right to face our accuser. Imagine me accusing you of lying on your child and providing a compelling story with a believable personality. Would you really want to have the police or state go forward with the case against your kid with me staying out of it and not cooperating after my initial accusation?

          12. Her alleged incompetence is no excuse

            Perhaps Ms. Robinson was not competent, as you state, but that is no excuse for the actions taken against her. There are appropriate ways to deal with an employee who is in over their head. Breaking the law is not an option. Did Mr. Bobkiewicz break the law? I have no idea, but it certainly looks very suspicious. The very fact that he was officially reprimanded makes it very clear that he did something wrong. Further, it’s not clear if he undertook the consolidation effort before or after the reprimand. In any case, it’s stunning to me that the City Council hasn’t taken a direct role in investigating this. Marty Lyons was left to investigate his own superior. That is nonsense. 

            The City Council is making Evanston citizens pay a half million dollars for this, yet from what I can deteremine, they done little or nothing to investigate the matter. 

          13. Doubt she was in over her head
            She came from larger municipalities before Evanston and is now returning to a larger one. That’s several instances of different municipalities mistakenly believing she is qualified. Possible but not likely. There could be several reasons her operation appeared one way or the other but apparently professional boards and administrators continue to trust in her ability.

  2. Nice work if you can get it

    This all sounds like work politics. I bet if both parties were the same race no racial discrimination claim would have been filed. But with all the racist accusations flying around in this town it should be no surprise that more racial discrimination suits will follow. And don’t be surprised if we see a racial discrimination suit filed by a white plaintiff and black defendant. Although, I hear those suits are harder to win.

    Just scream racist in this town and watch people bend over backward while others rise up with a billion demands and threatening lawsuits.

    Robinson got a half mil. Not a bad haul for a government employee. I’m telling my kids to go into government. Around here government is a growth industry with a steady pay raise, a great pension and other potential income. It is also really hard to get fired due to government union rules.

    And anytime gubmint needs more money for pay raises, pension, racial discrimination lawsuits etc.  it simply raises the tax rate. And taxpayers will never do anything about it. Few ever complain.

    Nice work if you can get it.

  3. Furlough day today

    All City employees had to take an unpaid day off today due to budget constraints. I expect it saved well less than $500,000.

    1. Why settle if you’re innocent

      Why settle if you’re innocent? If you just followed the rules you would have been offered that job in Tacoma. 

      1. too bad

        No kidding!   You hit that one right on the head!   People heard him make that bus comment…and others……and yet, council renewed his contract!  What a load of hooey!

      2. position

        City manager position should be elected by the public…not by brown-nosing council people…….who I would imagine, would be afraid of turning him down.  

        1. City managers are not
          City managers are not supposed to be elected. Politicians can win just from being well liked or received with little to no skills. The creation of the city manager field was to actually have a trained and educated professional that works in municipal government throughout all the ups and downs and political seasons i.e. someone who does this for a career, not as a transient patronage employer.

      3. Nobody cares about your
        Nobody cares about your innocence if it costs more in legal fees. Government agencies settle because its cheaper than going to trial even if they win.

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