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Country Club Hills facing complaints about discrimination
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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Two south suburban men have filed complaints with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, alleging that Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch and former City Manager Henrietta Turner discriminated against the men because they are gay.

James Abernathy and Tony Harper, a south suburban couple, are alleging that city officials subjected them to unfair treatment, ridiculed them and passed them over for job promotions.

"She called me names like 'faggot,'" Harper said of Turner, who is no longer employed by the city.

Harper, who worked for the city as marketing director for Country Club Hills Theater before being reassigned to another position, alleges that Turner mocked him for more than three years.

According to Harper, Turner gave him a women's birthday card, intended to ridicule his sexual orientation. Harper also alleges that when a toilet seat was accidentally delivered to his desk from public works, Turner joked that it was because "public works knows that Tony likes to play in shit."

"I felt like crying whenever Ms. Turner revealed my sexual orientation in a loud, overt and disapproving manner, which was done regularly in front of my co-workers," Harper said in his complaint. "I felt like Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple."

Turner, whose employment with the city ended in July, could not be reached for comment.

According to complaints, Turner allegedly harassed both men for being gay while other city employees, including the mayor, turned a blind eye to the discrimination.

Both men claim that Turner and Welch berated them for inquiring about partner insurance benefits in the fall of 2010.

Abernathy's complaint states that Welch dismissed their attempts to discuss insurance, saying that it was "an election season and he could not have 'silly stuff' going on."

Harper said that the mayor told him to stop talking with Turner because she is homophobic but that he did not take action to intervene.

Welch did not return requests to comment in time for publication.

Jacob Meister, the attorney representing Harper and Abernathy, claims that city officials did not respond to the anti-gay harassment after Abernathy and Harper reported it.

"They wouldn't let them file a complaint," Meister said. "And they said the complaint had to go through Henrietta [Turner]."

The anti-gay allegations are one part of a string of other complaints Harper and Abernathy have made against Turner and Welch. They also claim Turner, who is Black, used racial slurs while Welch referred to Turner as an "angry" Black woman. The two men have also said that Turner sexually harassed co-workers and strong-armed staffers into raising campaign funds for the mayor.

Lastly, Harper said that Welch told him it was his responsibility to dispel a rumor that Turner's son was gay. Harper said he told the mayor he knew nothing about the rumor and that he didn't feel it was his responsibility to deal with it.

Harper and Abernathy say that they were both passed over for raises while heterosexual co-workers received them. The reason given, according to the complaints, was that the couple earned more than $105,000 as a household. The complaints allege that other straight workers who are married did receive raises.

After Abernathy and Harper filed their complaints with the Department of Human Rights, the city demoted them, they said.

Abernathy said he was demoted from theater direction to operations manager three weeks after he filed his complaint, a position for which he claims he has not received a job description. Harper said he was demoted to an assistant manager of a day care at Meadowview School, despite the fact that he had never worked with children.

Both men filed a second round of complaints for the alleged retaliation.

Overall the men said, they have found Country Club Hills to be accepting of their relationship. The two say they have never had problems with neighbors or friends in the community.

"The negativity, surprisingly enough, came from inside City Hall," Harper said.

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