Pritzker responds after 10 campaign staffers file suit alleging racial discrimination, harassment

CHICAGO -- Democratic candidate for Illinois governor, J.B. Pritzker responded Wednesday after 10 campaign staffers filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination and harassment within the campaign.

In the lawsuit announced Tuesday night, the staff members claimed they were hired for specific race-related tasks such as "rounding up 40 black guys" and to fill a race quota. They said they were not offered meaningful opportunities for advancement, and received less favorable treatment than staff members who are white.

Pritzker responded by saying he was proud that 45 percent of his campaign staff across the state is comprised of people of color.

“…we’re going to have the most diverse administration in the history of Illinois,” the candidate said.

Lieutenant governor candidate, Juliana Stratton, issued a statement saying:

“I am very proud of the campaign that J.B. and I have put together. The majority of our senior team are African American and almost 45 percent of our entire staff are people of color. When people feel like they have been harassed or discriminated against, they have the right to come forward and have their voices heard, in this case, we had a letter delivered to us asking for $7.5 million dollars in 24 hours or they threatened legal action and to go to the press. That’s not a good faith effort.”

Stratton continued, “The incidents listed in this complaint are baseless and make offensive claims in regard to several members of our staff. We stand by our staff and that’s why we are not afraid to litigate this to the fullest extent of the law. I couldn’t be prouder to be on the ticket with JB and of the statewide, grassroots campaign that we’ve built.”

The lawyer who filed the lawsuit, Shay Allen, said there’s no politics at play. He said he is only seeking justice for his clients, many of which only worked for the Pritzker campaign for a few months. The lawyer said that’s plenty of time to establish a pattern and practice of discrimination.

Allen said one by one, the workers started coming to him with complaints, claiming they were not offered meaningful opportunities for advancement and received less favorable treatment than staff members who were white.

Allen cited one incident in which Kasmine Calhoun drove in from out-of-state to help the campaign in Peoria and was supposed to be staying with a family friendly to the campaign.

“Upon her arrival, she was told due to her race she was not going to be able to stay where she was supposed to stay. She expressed that concern to the campaign. Nothing happened. It actually got so bad for her, she had to sleep in her car for a couple days,” Allen said.

The suit even quoted wiretaps recorded between former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Pritzker in which race was discussed. Gov. Bruce Rauner who is also using those same wiretaps in his campaign against Pritzker, was asked if he was behind the lawsuit. He said that claim was “ridiculous.”

When asked why the lawsuit is coming a few weeks before the election, Allen said there’s no reason to wait.

“We can’t wait any longer while my clients are having their rights trampled on a daily basis,” he said.

Hours after the lawsuit was filed, one of the workers named in the suit, Celia Colon, tweeted several photos from a Pritzker campaign event calling it “amazing.” Her lawyer chalked it up to business as usual.

“She’s doing that because she’s doing her job,” he said.

Allen said his clients fear retribution for filing the lawsuit but will continue to do their jobs as long as they are allowed.

Allen also wanted to make it clear that the lawsuit is only against the Pritkzer campaign, not the man himself.