A laugh ignites tensions between labor union and state representative

Protesters push to get an "anti-sexual harassment " commercial aired on CBS.
Protesters push to get an "anti-sexual harassment " commercial aired on CBS.

by Stephanie Golden
Video by Xiao Lyu

An Illinois state representative is denying claims of laughing off a sexual harassment incident reported to him as protesters accuse him of inappropriate conduct.

More than 30 people gathered at Daley Plaza, across from CBS Chicago’s downtown headquarters, Tuesday to protest the local network’s refusal to air an “anti-sexual harassment” commercial, according to protest organizer Sarah Lyons.

Lyons said Unite Here Local 1, a hospitality workers union, is pushing to air a commercial reprimanding Rep. Martin Moylan (D-Des Plaines) for his response to a waitress reporting sexual harassment by a customer at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines. Lyons
said multiple local stations rejected the commercial but the group hoped the local CBS affiliate would  “be a leader.”

A CBS Chicago spokesperson said she was unaware of the issue.

The 21-year old waitress visited Moylan’s office to seek his help after casino officials refused to investigate her claim of a male customer asking her to perform oral sex, according to a Unite Here Local 1 representative.

“Rep. Moylan condoned sexual harassment when he laughed after that waitress shared her story,” said Carla Smith, a banquet server at the J.W. Marriott. Smith claims CBS Chicago is also condoning sexual harassment by refusing to air the ad #ComeForward.

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The commercial produced by Karen Kent, president Unite Here Local 1, accuses Rivers Casino and Moylan of not taking the issue of sexual harassment seriously. Moylan says the accusations are not true and he took all the necessary steps to help the young woman.

“After hearing the story of an employee at Rivers Casino, I sought further details about the situation to find out what happened and to make sure I had all the facts,” said Moylan in a statement released by his office. “I immediately reached out to Rivers Casino to dig deeper into the concerns and allegations of a former employee.”

Officials at Rivers Casino declined to respond to the incident after  attempts to confirm if the employee voluntarily ended her employment.

After requesting a review of casino security cameras and speaking with the employee’s supervisor and co-workers, Moylan said the investigation into the sexual harassment claim did not reveal any evidence of wrongdoing. He also says he encouraged the former employee to take steps open to her such as filing a police report.

“During my meeting with the former employee, I asked her if she had filed a police report. When she indicated that she hadn’t, I encouraged her to make a report and file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission so the proper authorities could investigate these serious allegations,” said Moylan.

The state representative is demanding an apology from the union and said in his statement that the disgraceful allegations are being used to advance its own agenda. He also said the organization has done this before.

“This union has a history of fraud, malice and pressuring women into telling very personal, tragic and explicit stories to further their agenda,” said Moylan, referring to a defamation case he claims was brought against the labor union in 2005.

“If Rep. Moylan has any examples to support his allegations, we would be happy to respond. If he would like to engage in a debate about both his and our history of dealing with women, we would be happy to engage,” said Kent.

Moylan highlights Sutter Health v. Unite Here. While involved in a labor disagreement with Angelica Textile Services, New York City-based Unite Here sent a postcard to women of child-bearing age in multiple communities served by Sutter-affiliated hospitals and birthing centers in Northern California. The mailer falsely suggested Sutter hospitals used contaminated linens provided by Angelica, according to a hospital press release.

Although dozens of Northern California hospitals used the company for laundry services, the mailer singled out Sutter-affiliated hospitals, claiming: “You may be bringing home more than your baby if you deliver at a Sutter birthing center.” The postcard featured a photograph of a newborn.

Sutter Health hospitals filed suit, charging Unite Here with maliciously making false accusations to exploit the vulnerability of its intended audience and, in the process, defaming Sutter Health and its hospitals. In July 2011, Unite Here was ordered to pay $6 million to Sutter Health for mass mailing defamatory postcards.

In his statement, Moylan said as a husband and father he is offended that the group would spread dangerous lies and accusations about such a serious issue.

Medill News Service reporters Katherine Lonsdorf and Raquel Zaldivar contributed to this story.

Photo at top: Protesters gather at Daley Plaza downtown to get CBS Chicago to air #ComeForward commerical. (Xiao Lyu/MEDILL),