Lawrence Hemingway, the Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services for the city, resigned Monday, according to Evanston Communications Manager Patrick Deignan. He becomes the latest in a line of city employees to leave amid an ongoing investigation into alleged sexual harassment and misconduct among Evanston seasonal lakefront workers.
WBEZ Chicago first reported Hemingway’s departure, effective immediately, from his position at the city on Monday evening. In his job as parks chief, he received an annual salary of $179,909.
Deignan said the city will have no further comment at this time, although the City Council is scheduled to conduct a closed-door executive session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Sixth Ward Council member Tom Suffredin said earlier this month that he expected the independent law firm hired by the city to complete its investigation into the abuse scandal by the end of February.
Hemingway did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the RoundTable on the nature of his resignation.
Petition eventually leads to investigation
Hemingway was leading the parks division in July 2020 when he and several other city officials first received a petition signed by more than 50 current and former female lifeguards and Evanston beach staff alleging a workplace culture of rampant sexual harassment, racism and discrimination. That petition demanded an apology and fundamental changes to the lakefront seasonal staff operation in Evanston.
But the petition and demands from those female lifeguards did not become public until WBEZ Chicago obtained a copy a year later, which led to the Evanston City Council holding an emergency meeting and hiring an outside firm to investigate the allegations.
In November 2021, the RoundTable acquired a copy of the lifeguards’ petition and a year’s worth of email exchanges among city staff about the allegations through a Freedom of Information Act request. Those documents revealed that the alleged sexual harassment and abuse allegations within the community of beach lifeguards and staff were widespread and severe. The anonymous written testimony from 46 female lifeguards amounted to seven pages of allegations.
Even before the toxic culture on the lakefront came to light, Hemingway was the subject of a 2018 Healthy Work Environment investigation into claims of sexual harassment in the workplace, allegations made by a former employee who said Hemingway had inappropriately commented on an Instagram post and frequently called her “Pocahontas” and “Lil’ Bit” at work. According to a city memo obtained by the RoundTable, Hemingway “admitted that he has called [redacted] Pocahontas because she looks like Pocahontas, from the Disney cartoon, with the long hair style. He also admitted he has referred to [redacted] as Lil’ Bit because she is little and short in stature.”
That investigation concluded that Hemingway’s comments on the employee’s social media post, which pictured her in a bathing suit on vacation in Mexico, “were sexual in nature.” The RoundTable acquired a copy of a written reprimand issued to Hemingway by the city following that investigation, stating that “he needs to do a better job of toning his voice down and avoiding colloquialisms and casual language in the workplace.”
During summer 2020, staff members in the Evanston Human Resources office approached the petition organizers about holding conversations with city officials, including Hemingway, on how to address their concerns. At that point, the lifeguards told Human Resources Specialist Casey Solomon that they did not want to talk to the parks director because “they did not feel that Lawrence Hemingway would be sympathetic to the side of the victims,” according to an email written by Solomon.
Since WBEZ published details about the lifeguard petition last summer, Hemingway, City Manager Erika Storlie, Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation Karen Hawk, Human Resources Division Chief Jennifer Lin and Recreation Manager Ray Doerner have left their positions with the city of Evanston.