Committee on Racism in State Government report finds discrimination in Delaware state agencies

 Rev. Silvester Beaman of IMAC said racism and discrimination in state agencies is far too common in Delaware. (Zoe Read/Newsworks)

Rev. Silvester Beaman of IMAC said racism and discrimination in state agencies is far too common in Delaware. (Zoe Read/Newsworks)

The report claims rampant workplace discrimination and racism in state agencies, and that workers fear retaliation.

As the result of a report published Wednesday, a group of Delaware civil rights and religious leaders, known as the Committee on Racism in State Government, is calling on Governor Jack Markell, D-Delaware, to put in place laws and regulations preventing workplace discrimination and racism in state agencies.

“The leaders are out of touch, and someone needs to kick the bucket over and that’s what we are doing, so they can become sensitized to the pain and suffering of people we know who have been deeply wounded and will continue to be deeply wounded if somebody doesn’t stand up and say, ‘This is wrong,’” President of the Interdenominational Ministers Action Council, Rev. Silvester Beaman said.

During an event In Wilmington, members of the committee, comprising of IMAC, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Dover & Vicinity, the Interdenominational Faith Coalition of Sussex County and NAACP Delaware leadership announced its State of Delaware Summary of Findings Report.

The committee developed the report using testimonies and personal interviews with current and former state workers, as well as information gained through the Freedom of Information Act.

More than 100 state employees from across all agencies shared their experiences for the investigation. The majority were African American, but Native Americans, Latinos and women were also interviewed.

The coalition found 26 percent of the participants reported a hostile work environment; 24 percent reported an unfair recruitment, hiring and promotion process; 18 percent reported racial discrimination; 17 percent reported retaliation; and 16 percent reported unfair disciplinary action.

In emails released to the press, state workers claimed that if an individual didn’t schmooze with an employer there would be a risk of backlash, and employees fear retaliation if they stand up for themselves or a co-worker.

“The state’s grievance process is flawed,” Beaman said.

One testimony read, “Any non-Caucasian person is harassed, bullied and discriminated against at that agency….I dreaded going to work. I was having panic attacks on an almost daily basis.”

Another participant said, “Racial jokes are made in the lunch room in the presence of blacks and whites….banana peels were thrown on the round near the entrance where one of the black supervisors enters and a rat trap placed on his desk. It was report to the HR/EEO manager but nothing really happened.”

The committee said the greatest complaints came from Department of Labor workers, and participants were most fearful of retaliation in Kent and Sussex counties, where blatant racism was more common.  

According to the committee’s report, most participants complained about being passed over for job opportunities and other professional opportunities in their state agencies.

“A large percentage of them had extensive employment history in the state,” Alicia Clark of IMAC said. “There were several stories indicating people had been in the same position, for 13, 14, 16 years.”  

The committee is requesting the employment litigation section of the U.S. Department of Justice launch an investigation into employment patterns and practices in state government.

Members also are calling for the development of a penalty mechanism and enforcement authority that will punish offenders of discrimination and racism.

In addition, the committee is asking for an assessment of the Office of Management & Budget and HR department personnel by an independent firm.

The members also recommended an anti-discrimination state policy, and a review and revision of Delaware’s Title 19 labor and employment practices statute.

The committee will create a task force to recommend and develop strategies to improve the workplace, and is asking for legislative action to create an independent Civil Rights Commission.

Beaman said the government should be taking an active role in workplace discrimination issues, and that funds should be set aside to address it. He said he believes Gov. Markell, who met with the committee Wednesday, will respond to its demands.

Jonathon Dworkin from the governor’s office said in an emailed statement, “The governor appreciated the opportunity to have a discussion with pastors and members of the NAACP about their report and the administration’s ongoing review. It included a conversation about improving the complaints process. He expects to continue the dialogue.”

“Faith and civic leaders, in addition to community members, must work collectively to ensure the state of Delaware lives up to its declaration that racism and discrimination is a violation of the law and must not be tolerated,” Beaman said.

“We believe together we can transform our state into a place that doesn’t just talk about social and economic injustice, but delivers on its promises.”

 

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