EDITORIAL: State needs to thoroughly investigate bias claims

February 2, 2018

EDITORIAL: State needs to thoroughly investigate bias claims

Dozens of employees of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services met with members of the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities recently at Washington Middle School to air grievances. We agree with state Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, that the shocking testimony they presented demands a thorough, formal investigation.

“The testimony was riveting, consistent and compelling,” Suzio stated in an email.

The workers told the commission of discrimination, harassment, threats, retaliation, and denied advancement. The forum was requested by the state NAACP, which asked CHRO to look into more than 20 complaints from DMHAS employees.

“We’ve been working on these complaints for over a year,” said Jason Teal, vice president of the Connecticut NAACP. “If it is found out that there is systematic racism or cultural bias, let us address this collectively.”

One black employee with DMHAS said a supervisor had hung a headless picture of her on a wall. Another said a supervisor threatened to cut her face.

“As a black man, we are always targeted,” said Kelly Pinder, an employee at Connecticut Valley Hospital. “I feel like everything I do is under scrutiny.”

“I’m deeply concerned by the testimony tonight,” DMHAS Commissioner Miriam Delphia-Rittman said at the forum. “It is my intention to investigate. I want us to work together. I encourage you to stay at the table. We can get to the other side of this because I hear you.”

Before the forum was convened, the commission had received about 28 complaints against DMHAS between 2014 to 2017, many alleging discrimination based on race, color, national origin, or ancestry. If CHRO finds discrimination, it could attempt to reach a settlement with the agency, or could refer the case to the federal Equal Employment Op­portunities Commission.

CHRO is expected to decide its next step when it meets on Feb. 14. Before this situation literally becomes a federal case, let us hope that the appropriate state agencies can resolve it equitably.