IL: Connect Transit Accused of Retaliation

Feb. 20--BLOOMINGTON -- A Connect Transit employee who settled a discrimination lawsuit with the agency last year now is alleging retaliation and citing a management employee who was let go after only a few months on the job.

Administrative assistant Patricia Tilton filed a federal lawsuit in early 2012 alleging sexual discrimination by a former general manager. Connect Transit, under new management, settled that lawsuit, which also included a now-former employee, last year for about $80,000.

Tilton remains a Connect Transit employee and filed a new complaint in January with the Illinois Department of Human Rights alleging Connect Transit retaliated against her after the settlement by shunning her, taking away job responsibilities and refusing to assign tasks and provide direction. Tilton also alleges Connect Transit decided prior to interviewing her not to hire her for an open community relations position because of the earlier lawsuit.

The complaint, obtained by The Pantagraph through the Freedom of Information Act, details conversations Connect Transit's General Manager Andrew Johnson and then-Human Resources Director Michelle Ferguson allegedly had with another administrative employee hired in June 2013, labor relations liaison Ami Armitage.

According to the complaint, Johnson and Ferguson told Armitage before hiring her that she would take over some of Tilton's job duties and that Tilton had "'bit the hand that fed her,' and they were going to terminate her employment."

"They told Armitage their attorneys had told them in order to terminate Tilton's employment they would have to cross their t's and dot their i's and have enough disciplinary entries in her file to justify her termination," the complaint states. It adds that Johnson regularly asked Armitage if Tilton had done anything worth reporting, to which Armitage responded she had not.

According to the complaint, Armitage was dismissed after 87 days on the job because "she was not a good fit." It also states her termination took place shortly after Johnson told her she was "friendly" with Tilton, creating a perception problem.

As administrative assistant, Tilton became a union employee when the bus drivers' union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local No. 752 expanded last year to include dispatchers, her position and a receptionist.

"There was never an attempt to dismiss Tilton," Johnson told the Pantagraph on Wednesday. "Clearly, we don't believe that retaliation took place, but, nonetheless, we'll respond to the complaint and let that take its course."

Tilton's attorney Richard Steagall said, "It's unheard of" that an employer would retaliate so soon after settling a case. "It's amazing the amount of money that ... instead of running the public's business, they're getting in all these fights with employees, taking a lot of time and costing a lot of money. Plus, she's protected by a union agreement," he said.

Copyright 2014 - The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.