The Committee on Racism in State Government continues its effort to address racism and discrimination in Delaware’s state workplaces.
Civil rights and religious leaders who released a report last month that examined discrimination and racism in state workplaces have since met with Governor Jack Markell, D-Delaware, and other Delaware legislators.
Now the group known as the Committee on Racism in State Government hopes to achieve accountability for managers and directors of state agencies who ignore anti-discrimination laws.
“Our question to the governor continues to be, ‘If the state has an anti-discrimination policy and a zero tolerance policy then when and how is it being enforced?’ Because we are not seeing that happen,” a consultant for the Interdenominational Ministers Action Council Alicia Clark said.
The committee comprises of IMAC, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Dover & Vicinity, the Interdenominational Faith Coalition of Sussex County and the NAACP.
After interviewing more than 100 state employees the committee released a report early January alleging racism and discrimination, and claiming workers feared retaliation if they reported a hostile work environment.
According to the report, the greatest complaints came from Department of Labor workers, and participants were most fearful of retaliation in Kent and Sussex counties, where the report says blatant racism was more common.
“People continue to be afraid to speak up and say anything because there aren’t any consequences for people who have acted and behaved in that way,” Clark said.
Following the publication of its report, the committee released it to the governor and had a follow-up meeting with his office. The group says it has discussed the work involved in undertaking a statewide assessment.
Clark said the governor was given names of managers and directors who, in the testimonials of the study, have been accused of ignoring complaints of racism and discrimination.
“The conversations that have begun are good discussions, but we haven’t implemented or executed,” she said. “It’s still very early on, so it’s difficult to say if we’re moving the right direction yet. But for us the right direction would be to hold people accountable.”
Markell’s press secretary, Courtney McGregor, said the governor has appreciated the opportunity to speak with the committee about the report and the administration’s ongoing review.
“He has expressed his commitment to addressing a workplace climate for people of all backgrounds and expects all state employees to be treated fairly and for their concerns to be addressed respectfully,” McGregor said in an email.
“As he has told the members of the committee, he will not engage in public conversation about personnel matters.”
Since the report was released, Delaware Labor Secretary John McMahon announced his retirement after working in his position seven years, saying in January, “This job demands a tremendous commitment and I feel it is necessary to step down to have more time to spend with my family.”
Upon the announcement, Markell said McMahon, “Played a vital role in helping our state tap into the talents of groups who were too often unable to access the employment opportunities they deserved, from recently returning veterans to people with disabilities.”
Clark said the committee believes he didn’t take responsibility for the problems faced within the department, and members are, “glad to see he has resigned.” Dr. Patrice Gilliam-Johnson replaced McMahon for the position.
“Dr. Gilliam-Johnson is well-respected, and brings credentials and expertise to the organization that we feel are affective and are needed to begin to correct some of these problems and issues,” Clark said.
“However, we want to make sure we all understand her role is one that will require full participation and support of the governor and her colleagues.”
The committee also has met with the Delaware Black Caucus and other legislators in the state to ask for their support.
Clark said she also encourages the general public to speak up about any wrongdoings in their workplace and provide their support for the committee.
“Although we have been focused on issues impacting the African American community, this effort is not exclusively an African American issue,” she said.
“Discrimination is wrong and others are impacted as well—other people of color, Latinos, white women—and so if people aren’t treated fairly within the workplace and their civil rights are being violated they’re welcome to join us at the table.”