A politician in Chicago is deservedly under fire for rehiring an ex-city worker who threatened several co-workers with rape if they reported his workplace sexual harassment.
As a former longtime Chicago resident I'm usually not surprised at all by news of shady and sleazy practices in that city's politics. Backroom deals, cover-ups, bribes and horrible violations of the law are pretty much just fodder for jokes between talk of traffic on Lake Shore Drive and discussions of how everyone hates the Packers. But the story of how Thomas J. Sadzak weaseled his way back into a job for a city representative is spectacularly unbelievable in terms of being an absolute slap in the face of basic respect to women.
The Chicago Sun-Times has an in-depth look at Sadzak's rise through the ranks of the Streets and Sanitation department (surprise, he was buddies with the guy who used to run the department) while managing to bully and sexually harass multiple women.
Nine years ago, Sadzak quit a job at the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation just as he was about to be fired over sexual-harassment allegations. A female employee said Sadzak threatened to rape her if she didn't stop complaining about his crude sexual advancements and behavior. A City Hall investigation concluded Sadzak had, indeed, violated the city's sexual-harassment policy.
One of the biggest targets of Sadzak's abuse was Harriette McPherson. She worked in Sadzak's crew at the Streets and Sanitation department and during that time, she and other female colleagues were repeatedly subjected to Sadzak's personal brand of workplace sexual harassment. What he put McPherson through, starting in 2000 when she began working at the department is pretty heinous. Two additional women, Kenya Woods and Nina Booker, were also threatened by Sadzak:
Over the next five years [starting in 2000], McPherson said in her lawsuit, Sadzak repeatedly sexually harassed her, and Streets and San supervisors ignored her complaints.
"It is undisputed that beginning in June of 2000, Sadzak made sexual remarks about McPherson's body, including her breasts, in the presence of hand laborer Nina Booker," according to an order dated June 10, 2008, from U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning that allowed the case to go on.
"He also asked McPherson to let him touch her breasts in the presence of hand laborer Kenya Woods, passed McPherson notes titled 'to-do list' that contained lewd drawings, and made obscene comments to McPherson," the judge wrote. "In addition, Booker and Woods saw Sadzak pull down his pants in front of McPherson on at least one occasion. On days when McPherson was not at work, Sadzak drove past McPherson's home or repeatedly called her home phone."
In a ruling that allowed McPherson to move forward with filing that lawsuit, Judge Manning wrote "McPherson, Booker and Woods testified that Sadzak told them that if they complained about sexual harassment, he might rape them or have them fired." Jesus fucking Christ. McPherson eventually filed a federal lawsuit and won a $99,000 settlement from the city in 2008 as a result of Sadzak's harassment.
A City Hall investigation...recommended he be fired. Sadzak resigned on Oct. 5, 2005. That landed him on City Hall's "do-not-hire" list — a roster of 492 crooked aldermen, bribe-taking bureaucrats and others accused of a wide range of misdeeds.
The "Do Not Hire" list includes employees whose transgressions and crimes (such as taking bribes) were so shitty, they are supposedly not allowed back on the taxpayer payroll. So that should have been the end of his reign of sexist terror on the taxpayer dime, right? NOPE. Not by a long shot.
Sadzak—who is a man who threatened to rape his fellow workers—is working as a legislative aid to Alderman John Pope, a Democrat representing the 10th ward, thanks to a healthy dose of cronyism and good ole' fashioned rape culture (WHICH TOTALLY DOESN'T EXIST, RIGHT?). If you're still on the fence, the 10th ward is the same district Sadzak worked in while he engaged in his campaign of harassment against McPherson and other female co-workers. He has reportedly been on the payroll since Nov. 17, 2008. According to the Sun-Times, he's making $57,048 a year in his new job.
And yes, sadly and mysteriously, Sadzak is not the only employee on the so-called "Do Not Hire" list who managed to find another job with the city. So much WTF here. According to the Sun-Times, two of the people on the list were fired but the city can't get rid of Sadzak and YET ANOTHER MAN accused of sexual harassment because they both work for city council:
[The] mayor's office said it can't fire the other two — Sadzak and Jesse Smart Jr. — because they work for the City Council, which had long refused to abide by the "do-not-hire" list.
Last month, the City Council agreed to ban the practice of hiring people on the list from now on — which allowed Sadzak and Smart to remain on the city payroll. Smart works for Ald. Walter Burnett (27th). Like Sadzak, Smart landed on the list after he resigned to avoid being fired over sexual harassment allegations.
The shittier "fuck all this shit" part of Sadzak's re-hiring is that Alderman Pope has totally refused to answer even the most basic question about this fuckery, such as WHYYYYYYYY? Why, for the love of all that is holy and sane, would you rehire this person? Are his contributions as a "campaign aid" really so mind-blowing and game changing that it's makes it acceptable to laugh in the face of the women who work for the city you claim to diligently represent? WHAT MAGICAL POWERS DOES HE POSSESS? IS HE A WIZARD WHO HAS YOU UNDER HIS SPELL? BLINK ONCE FOR YES AND TWICE FOR NO, ALDERMAN POPE:
Why did Pope hire someone on the do-not-hire list? He won't say.
What does Sadzak do for the alderman? "I have no comment," Pope says.
Has the alderman read the complaint involving Sadzak? "Thanks, but no comment," Pope says.
Oh. Well he said "no comment." Never mind, everyone! Nothing to see here; let's pack it up.
OK, look. If this guy is Alderman Pope's super secret BFF who comes over on weekends to binge watch House of Cards while braiding his hair, that's really none of our business. You want to be social with the asshole who bullied his co-workers to the brink of insanity? Fine; knock yourself out, bro. But when you decide to hire that person to work for you, as a representative of the city, then you at least owe those same citizens who elected you a goddamn explanation as to why.
But don't listen to me. Listen to the words of a mother of four and a laborer in the sanitation department who can sum up the crux of the issue of power dynamics in the workplace better than I or any other pundit ever could:
"I don't think he should be working for the city, but that's the way politics are," said McPherson "He used to always say he had clout with the city. That's why he was comfortable doing those things to me."
Sadly, she's dead right. Because ultimately creeps like Sadzak will always get a pass on their abuse of women, so long as they have the same creeps in higher positions of power enabling their disgusting behavior.
Image via AP Images.