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Former worker files bias lawsuit

Man says employees called him a racial slur

Caption
Will Shaffer

LYNDON – A former village employee has sued Lyndon over his firing last year, accusing officials of discriminating against him because he is black.

In May, Will Shaffer, Lyndon’s former maintenance supervisor, filed a lawsuit against the village and its president, Tim Crady, in U.S. District Court in Rockford.

The lawsuit contends village employees called Shaffer the N-word, which the village denies.

In January 2012, the village’s board of trustees voted 4-2 to fire Shaffer, who started as an employee in 2004. The village accused him of using village resources and time for private purposes, which he denies.

The dissenting trustees, Lyle Armstrong and Les Williams, said at the time that Crady wouldn’t let them see the documentation against Shaffer. Armstrong later contended the village discriminated against Shaffer because he is black.

Crady said then that he would have let board members look at the list of charges against Shaffer if they had asked.

In the lawsuit, Shaffer claims former Village Clerk Linda Pilgrim called him the N-word, informing him repeatedly starting in 2008 that she didn’t like black people, saying they were lazy.

Pilgrim, whom Crady fired in 2011 after a critical audit, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The lawsuit also contends other village employees used the N-word against Shaffer, who is represented by Moline attorney Stephen Fieweger. Shaffer claims in the suit that he was not paid the wage and benefits that “similarly situated” white employees received, although the suit doesn’t offer details.

In December 2011, the suit says, a noticeably intoxicated village Trustee Becky Piester propositioned Shaffer sexually and made an inappropriate racial remark of a sexual nature.

Piester, who voted for Shaffer’s firing, called those contentions “bald-faced lies.”

“I can get you 150 to 200 names of people who would say it’s a bald-faced lie. As soon as this is all over, I’ll be suing him. This is my name and my reputation,” she said in a phone interview. “I’d never say anything like that.”

She acknowledged she had seen Shaffer in a local bar, greeting him but never carrying on a conversation with him.

“I don’t go into the pub without my husband,” she said.

Piester also said she didn’t believe others had used a racial slur.

“That’s ridiculous,” Piester said. “As far as the people in Lyndon I’m associated with, I don’t know anyone who would say anything like this. At this point, he [Shaffer] is grasping at straws.”

Piester said Shaffer mentioned Pilgrim in the lawsuit because she had moved out of town.

Shaffer is seeking damages of more than $100,000.

According to the lawsuit, Shaffer was told that he had hauled scrap during work hours and used city equipment to plow residents’ driveways for compensation. Shaffer said Crady “falsely created” those allegations to discriminate against him on the basis of race.

At a later village board meeting, according to the lawsuit, Crady said Shaffer was fired for failing to get a water operator’s license, which wasn’t given as a reason during his termination.

In its response, the village, represented by Chicago attorney Lori Vanderlaan, confirmed the reasons for Shaffer’s firing. The village says Shaffer failed the water operator’s test a number of times, despite the village’s support and efforts to help him pass it.

The village also said that if Shaffer encountered a hostile work environment, he never reported it during his employment, as is called for under the village’s anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies.

Fieweger, Shaffer’s attorney, said that wasn’t true.

“Will put up with this crap for years,” Fieweger said. “He complained about it. They didn’t do anything. They didn’t discipline anyone.”

Besides, he said, Shaffer’s supervisors, including Pilgrim, took part in the discrimination, making them liable under the law in the first place.

“Three trustees called the majority on it, and the majority didn’t want to address it,” Fieweger said. “The mayor’s story has changed on why Will was fired.”

Neither Crady nor the village’s attorney returned messages for comment.

A hearing in the case is set for Aug. 7.

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