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Five former employees file charges of discrimination against the Rockford Housing Authority; RHA disputes all the allegations

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — Since 2019, five former Rockford Housing Authority employees have filed charges of discrimination and wrongful termination through the EEOC.

Marcus Hill is one of the five who filed an EEOC charge of discrimination. He worked as a resident services manager at RHA until he was fired for going to an event on RHA property while he was infected with COVID-19. However, he feels other employees weren't held to the same standard on COVID policies.

"If you're going to terminate me for something, then you should also use the same techniques and the same measures you went through with me for everyone else," Hill said.

Emails obtained by 13 Investigates between RHA and the Winnebago County Health Department support his claim.

On May 13, RHA sent an email to the health department saying an employee was in the office on Monday (May 11) despite her and her husband having COVID-19 symptoms. The employee's husband tested positive that Wednesday, but the employee herself did not test positive. She did however violate company COVID-19 policy by not staying home despite her symptoms and exposure to someone else exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. Former employees familiar with the situation claim this worker was white and was not disciplined for breaking protocol.

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Monique Jones is another one of the workers who filed an EEOC complaint and says discriminatory treatment lead her physician to pulling her out of work.

"Due to continued constructive discharge behavior by the Rockford Housing Authority towards me, on February 8th my physician took me out of work to place me on FMLA due to situational anxiety and depression that I was experiencing due to such treatment," Jones said.

Jones claims the discrimination continued. Earlier this year, RHA fired Jones for what she phrased as the company 'losing faith in her abilities.' Jones says her track record over eight years proved otherwise, and claims her termination was racially charged, placing the blame on management in the company.

"As of today, the unethical employment practices are continuing within RHA as the executive officer is now acting HR manager for the organization," Jones said.

Cannie Reed never filed an EEOC complaint, but claims he also suffered a wrongful termination from RHA. He started as a housing counselor when he claims he was immediately thrown into a relocation project without getting what he considered to be proper training. Reed says he was shocked with a termination notice a little more than a year into his time with RHA, and says the reasons for that termination were inaccurate.

"They came back and told me that there were missing paperwork, which I know that the paperwork was done," Reed said. They said that I was withholding checks and I was actually instructed to withhold checks."

13 Investigates reached out to RHA CEO Laura Snyder and RHA Board Chair Karen Hoffman. Both declined to comment on personnel issues, but RHA's legal representation sent a statement to WREX reading in part.

"The Rockford Housing Authority disputes the allegations of these charges. The Rockford Housing Authority is contesting the allegations of these EEOC/IDHR charges in the administrative process as required by the EEOC/IDHR."

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Hoffman referred WREX to a statement she made regarding the recent allegations at a September 7 meeting where she said.

"Is everyone happy? No. Those who don't like change or raising the bar are disgruntled. Some rather than taking advantage of training programs have chosen to leave. I also want to state that Illinois is an at-will state meaning so if someone does not measure up or meet expectations can be terminated."

However, Rockford alderman Linda McNeely and Mark Bonne accuse Hoffman and Snyder of not bringing that information to the council.

"I have talked with Karen Hoffman in the past, and she has never brought this up to me, the fact that there were issues regarding discrimination," McNeely said.

"The alderman who is the current board chairman has repeatedly told us there's nothing to look at here," Bonne said. "You're overstepping your bounds to even be questioning what's going on at the RHA."

Hoffman responded to these claims in a statement to 13 Investigates saying the board is incredibly restricted with bringing up personnel issues, and says it's beyond the pale.

"You should also know that per HUD/IDHA the City Council has NO authority to pursue this issue," Hoffman said. "The only authority they have is to approve or deny any persons put forth by the Mayor. This was deliberately done to keep politics out of Housing which is run by a Federal Agency. Please note, the City does not even bring its own personnel issues before the Council.  Bringing this matter to the City Body was inappropriate and outside of its authority."

That didn't stop McNeely from taking a step further to call for Hoffman and Snyder's removal.

"These are issues that didn't just happen last month or even six months ago," McNeely said. "That whole board and CEO needs to be removed and new individuals need to be placed there."

However, the City of Rockford reaffirmed Hoffman's statements about the council's power in regards to RHA.

“The Rockford Housing Authority is its own unit of local government, separate and distinct from the City of Rockford. Per statute, their board is appointed by the mayor and city council, but RHA is its own government body. RHA employees are not City of Rockford employees. As such, neither the mayor nor city council are involved in personnel matters, including hiring, firing, discipline, termination or other related issues.”

The ultimate source of validity for the complaints still belongs with the EEOC as they continue to investigate the five claims.

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