Oct 11 SDARJ Meeting reveals problems and solutions
The Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice presented, “Structural Racial Inequality in State Government,” at 7:00 p.m. on October 11, 2016 at the Trinity Faith Christian Center at 15516 New Road in Lewes. Our presenter, Alicia Clark, conducted the study of systemic discrimination and racism in state government in collaboration with the Inter-denominational Ministers Action Council and the NAACP. The study covered minorities including African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and women.
Update: As a result of the study, Governor Markell awarded a contract to the Ivy Planning Group to conduct a human resource management assessment. Read the complete report here.
Ms. Clark reported the results of a study she conducted on systemic discrimination and racism in state government in collaboration with the Inter-Denominational Ministers Action Council and the NAACP. The study covered minorities including African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and women. Ms. Clark shared a definition of structural inequality as a condition where one category of people is attributed an unequal status in relation to other categories of people. This relationship is perpetuated and reinforced by a confluence of unequal relations in roles, functions, decisions, rights, and opportunities.
DFIA started the process of examining racial discrimination issues in Delaware because for decades state employees, primarily black, were reaching out to clergy and NAACP members for help. Black and Latino state employees were following the proper channels to report incidents of racism and discrimination in the workplace however when they did, they did not receive due process, often their complaints were not properly investigated or the resolution favored management most the time. The stories were unsettling.
One very troubling statistic that raised a red flag immediately was the report from Delaware’s Department of Labor Office of Anti-Discrimination. From 2012 to 2015, 190 complaints were filed against state agencies and the Office of Anti-Discrimination, only had one (1) Cause Finding, which means they determined only one case out of 190 had merit. We don’t know the outcome of the 189 complaints, because the information is protected, but it seems statistically impossible for there to be so few cause findings.
This was the tip of the iceberg because as the research and review ensued the group quickly began to realize the complaints and cases were not isolated to one department or geographic area of Delaware but throughout the entire state. The most egregious accounts of racism and discrimination were in Kent and Sussex Counties.
The group also gathered testimonials from state employees alleging management consistently violate policies and the civil rights of employees with impunity. The reporting systems and organizational structure within state agencies facilitate and perpetuate inequality. It became clear that whites were being promoted to management and senior positions over minorities with more seniority and experience. Some individuals in management positions were abusive, emotionally and sometimes physically.
A significant number of state employees were retaliated against for filing complaints or challenging management and some experienced retaliation after participating in the hearing process. There remains a great deal of fear and mistrust when filing grievances and reporting supervisors or management for unfair labor practices. It has created a “chill effect” which happens when people are fearful for their jobs and will not report discrimination because they feel threatened and intimidated.
Out of the 200 testimonials collected approximately 40% were from residents living in Kent and Sussex Counties which is where the overt racist behaviors were displayed such as banana peels thrown and Aunt Jemima cookbooks brought into the workplace.
We also heard from several black educators in Sussex County school districts. They shared their stories about the discriminatory practices within the school districts in terms of hiring and promotions, as well as the mistreatment and abuse of black and brown children, specifically children in special education tracks or programs. Administrators fail to adhere to policies and there is a lack of transparency. The Department of Education fails to monitor discriminatory practices throughout school districts and school administrators are not held accountable.
State employees at the Sussex County Correctional Institution discussed the overt racism and discrimination in the workplace, name calling “N word”, jokes about lynching and negative remarks about “black” names, etc. Black and Latino employees are passed over for senior level promotions. The issues were wide ranging and touched on recruitment and hiring, promotions, hostile work environment, unfair disciplinary action, as well as retaliation. Some individuals were not subjected to acts of racism and discrimination but they witnessed it happening to others – they too shared their testimonials.
The study revealed that state government human resources management practices lack uniformity across the 13 executive branches in state government. Management discretion creates inconsistencies in operations from agency to agency. The lack of uniform policies and procedures, and a lack of management accountability create breeding grounds for injustice and unfair labor practices. Employees are typically forced into a position of pursuing a grievance for discrimination through a process that is stacked in favor of management and very intimidating.
When an employee launches a complaint, they might have a union representative, but if they are not represented by the union they are faced with going through this process alone. In most cases, the HR Director does not remain neutral. Documentation shows HR have represented management in hearings. The Attorney General’s office represents the state in grievance hearings.
The results of the study demonstrate how justice is denied to state employees through the various systems and processes. There are a number of bad actors in state government. They can easily be identified however the system, the structure, and sometimes management protect them so they remain in their positions. The Governor, Cabinet Secretaries and State Legislators have turned a blind eye for so long and it has become an accepted culture and way of doing business in state government. It emboldens the behavior when people can break the law without consequence or prosecution. This is a crisis and it will not be fixed with diversity and inclusion plans, affirmative action executive orders or a human resource management assessment. It will take political will, financial resources, human capital, subject matter experts, and a comprehensive statewide strategy.
The state of Delaware is the largest employer in Delaware. Blacks and Latinos are underrepresented in senior and executive positions in every agency. State government is an oppressive structure. We are zapping our human resources and wasting taxpayer funds when we fail to utilize and misuse talent. We have to recognize that if the employees are being mistreated in this manner, that culture, and those practices and attitudes translate into statewide services and programs that touch all of us – directly or indirectly. There is an exponential impact on our entire state.
In 2009 Governor Jack Markell signed an executive order (#8) that directed his agencies to pursue “the recruitment and promotion of qualified applicants from diverse backgrounds”. During his tenure, racial diversity in state government has declined. The percentage of black and Latino managerial positions decreased from 2009-2014 and the percentage of white managers increased. 29% of state employees are African American and 65% are white but whites make up 75% of the officials and administrators in state government, as reported by the Department of Labor. Even with an affirmative action directive, there was a lack of compliance because there was no accountability. The majority of African Americans and Latinos work in lower level positions and upper management positions are held by whites.
Governor Markell recently announced they have awarded a contract to the Ivy Planning Group to conduct a human resource management assessment. An independent review of human resource management in state agencies was one of DFIA’s seven recommendations. An assessment is warranted to address structural problems however it will not bring justice or remedies to those who have suffered. Our actions and other recommendations are as follows:
- Launch a US DOJ investigation into state government employment practices and patterns. We asked US Attorney General Charles Oberly to assist with engaging the US DOJ in Washington DC. We believe a US DOJ investigation will bring justice to employees not the HR assessment.
- Provide prompt remedial action for state employees filing retaliation complaints.
- Create a Task Force be created by January 2016 to continue the work of implementing recommendations and provide support to the Office of Management and Budget who is managing the assessment process.
- Create a uniform anti-discrimination policy.
- Review and revise Delaware’s Title 19 Labor and Employment Practices statute – which hasn’t been updated since the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Create an independent Delaware Commission on Civil Rights with sovereign immunity that would be responsible for monitoring employment, housing, public accommodations, education and state contracts for all Delaware citizens.
Here’s what you can do:
- Write Letters to newspaper editors, and post to blogs.
- Write to your legislators and call for a Special Session/Hearing on discrimination in state government.
- Write to your federal and state officials and ask them to support DE Faith In Action’s petition for a United States Department of Justice investigation into employment patterns and practices in state government and ask them what are they doing about this crisis.
- Spread the word about the injustices in Delaware and the need for state employees to be made whole.
- Join and support DE Faith In Action! defaithinaction.org
Alicia Clark is the founder and Principal Consultant of Social Solutions LLC, a Delaware minority and women-owned firm. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.