Cultural insensitivity’ found at state Labor Department

JohnMcMahon

, The News Journal10:28 a.m. EST February 24, 2016

Documents obtained by The News Journal show measures proposed in light of racism charges

An investigation into the Delaware Department of Labor amid allegations of racism found “an unhealthy work environment due to lack of professionalism and cultural insensitivity,” The News Journal has learned through a Freedom of Information Act request.

After interviewing nearly 10 percent of employees at the Labor Department last fall, Amy Bonner, the human resources deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget, recommended that supervisors open lines of communication with employees, clarify the worker complaint process, install a diversity committee and hold employees “accountable” for improper actions in their offices.

Bonner presented then-Labor Secretary John McMahon with a list of recommendations based on her findings. Bonner said one recommendation dealing with worker complaints was implemented. It is unclear which of the other recommendations were addressed.

McMahon resigned in January.

“If [an employee does] something that is inappropriate, that should be addressed,” Bonner said Tuesday, “regardless of who you are.

“I found that there were some situations where I personally would have handled things differently. I’m not at liberty to discuss what I learned in [individual] interviews.”

Download the redacted document by clicking here. (PDF file)

The recommendations were based upon recurring issues that employees pointed to during interviews, Bonner said.

The Delaware Labor Department oversees unemployment insurance, labor statistics, career training programs and workplace discrimination probes.

Bonner said her investigation was ordered by Gov. Jack Markell.

It began shortly after The News Journal reported in August that a coalition of African-American pastors and the Delaware NAACP was interviewing scores of state employees who alleged they were the victims of ongoing racist acts at state offices.

In total, the coalition, called the Committee on Racism in State Government, said they documented allegations of workplace racism from over 150 employees in multiple state agencies.

Pastors in the coalition said discrimination at the Department of Labor was the most “egregious.”

Bonner said she could not comment on allegations made by the Committee on Racism in State Government.

The coalition on Dec. 10 shared a report with Markell that detailed its monthslong investigation into claims of racism.

Supervisors “not only condone these actions, but perpetrated and even encouraged disparate treatment among employees,” the coalition said in its report, which The News Journal obtained through a FOIA request in January.

Before entering a closed-door meeting with Markell, the Rev. Silvester Beaman, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, said immediate personnel changes at the Labor Department were necessary.

One week later, McMahon announced his retirement.

On Tuesday, McMahon declined to comment about the contents of Bonner’s report. In a November email to Bonner, he wrote, “it was obvious that we had several instances of massive stupidity by a few members of our staff.”

Just days after McMahon resigned, Markell nominated Patrice Gilliam-Johnson, a human resources expert and daughter of the late civil rights leader, Jim Gilliam Sr. to be the new labor secretary.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, Gilliam-Johnson said: “Some of the recommendations of OMB had already been implemented to include hiring a Training Specialist to develop a Personnel Development Program, revising the Code of Conduct and implementing an internal complaint process for DOL employees.

“We are also working to improve communication throughout DOL via use of the new intranet site. We will continue to work with OMB and rely on their counsel to improve our policies and practices as well as welcoming ongoing feedback from DOL employees.”

Bonner said she is not aware how many of her recommendations have been implemented at the Department of Labor to date. When asked if there is any mechanism in government to force the agency to act, Bonner said, “we are all committed to making sure these [issues] are addressed.”

Alicia Clark, spokeswoman for the coalition of pastors and the NAACP, said the group has been working with Markell to implement changes at all state agencies since December, but said the governor hasn’t been clear about whether he plans to fire any supervisors if he finds they have allowed discrimination to exist.

“What is vague is we haven’t been kept up to date on personnel” changes, Clark said.

Contact Karl Baker at (302) 324-2329 or kbaker@delawareonline.com. Follow him on twitter @kbaker6.

 

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