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The City of Evanston has zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and is 100 percent committed to fostering a workplace climate and culture where all staff feel safe and respected.
As recently reported by WBEZ, four seasonal City of Evanston lakefront employees brought serious concerns to the City’s attention in the summer of 2020 regarding the work environment at Evanston beaches and alleged misconduct by lakefront staff. The City is enormously grateful to the four employees who raised these issues, as well as others who shared concerns and anecdotes anonymously through a petition circulated among lakefront staff.
Following the WBEZ report, the City would like to clarify the events that occurred and detail the substantial actions taken to immediately respond to these issues and ensure a safe, healthy work environment for all lakefront employees.
In July 2020, City lakefront managers received an email from four female seasonal employees who requested a meeting to discuss concerns regarding the work environment at Evanston’s lakefront. The City’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department and Human Resources Division met with these employees that week and were presented with a petition containing a number of anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, sexism, racism and discrimination by lakefront staff. Although the allegations contained in the petition did not identify any specific individuals engaging in this behavior or provide a timeline for when the behavior occurred, the City was deeply concerned and immediately took the following actions:
- Lakefront staff were strongly encouraged to contact the City’s Human Resources Division to provide specific accounts of the misconduct described in the petition and to identify individuals involved in this behavior. Staff were also strongly encouraged to contact the Evanston Police Department regarding serious allegations of sexual assault and statutory rape, which were alleged to have occurred off-duty at after-hours parties.
- All lakefront staff were immediately required to attend a live sexual harassment training, which specifically reiterated the prohibition of sexual harassment and misconduct among lakefront employees and the consequences of violations. It also focused on the prohibition of sexual conduct and behavior involving minor employees and coworkers and reminded staff that off-duty misconduct was also inappropriate and unacceptable.
- A trusted Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department employee was identified and designated to serve as a liaison with the City’s Human Resources Division to receive any complaints and concerns from lakefront staff.
- A followup meeting was held with the four employees who provided the petition, where a collaborative plan was agreed upon to ensure safety and communication for the remainder of the 2020 season.
- In fall of 2020, the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department reached out to the four employees and invited them to be a part of 2021 season preparations.
- In February 2021, the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department met with the four employees to share remedial and additional training that would be required of lakefront staff for the 2021 season. Also presented were updated policies dealing with the other concerns they had previously raised in 2020, including compensation, COVID-19 safety protocols, and issues with difficult beach patrons.
- One male employee was not rehired for the 2021 season after further discussions with lakefront staff. There were no other allegations specific to any other individuals.
The safety and well-being of City staff is paramount, and all employees deserve a healthy work environment where everyone feels respected. Anything less than that is unacceptable. The City of Evanston regrets that there were staff who experienced a work environment that did not meet this standard. Despite the City’s repeated efforts to attain the identity of those individuals alleged to have committed these violations to hold them accountable, the City was unable to identify specific individuals due to the anonymity of the complaints.
The City of Evanston has always held employees responsible when incidents of misconduct have been reported, but understands that it is also the City’s responsibility to ensure that employees feel comfortable and empowered to report these issues if and when they occur. After taking the actions outlined above and engaging in an ongoing dialogue with lakefront staff, the City is confident that the appropriate measures have been implemented to respond to the serious issues raised and to ensure a safe, healthy environment for all lakefront staff and visitors.