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October 23, 2008

DNR again faces racism allegations in lawsuit

Black supervisor claims he's discrimination victim

John Schneider
[email protected]

The state Department of Natural Resources is facing more charges of racial discrimination six months after reaching an out-of-court settlement with a black female Law Enforcement Division lieutenant.

A state investigator concluded she suffered on-the-job racial and sexual bias.
In a suit filed Oct. 10 in Federal District Court in Detroit, Sgt. Arthur Green III, another black supervisor in the division claims he was a victim of "numerous forms of race discrimination."

Green alleges that his race cost him various opportunities for advancement and promotion, thus hurting his earning potential. He seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Green declined, through his lawyer, Brian Koncius of Bingham Farms, to comment on the suit. DNR officials also declined to answer questions about the case.
However, Alan Marble, who was chief of the Law Enforcement Division until his retirement in August 2007, said:

"I regret that Art feels compelled to go forward with this suit. I bent over backward in the early days - when Art was getting started - to make the playing field level. To keep picking these scabs keeps the wounds from healing."

[SIZE=+2]61-page report

On Sept. 11, 2006, Linda Copeland-Morgan, a 27-year veteran of the DNR and the only black female conservation officer, wrote a letter to Gov. Jennifer Granholm in which she presented a litany of specific incidents of racial and sexual discrimination.
State civil rights investigator Cheryl Strayhorn spent two months examining those claims. In November 2006, she issued a 61-page report, in which she concluded Copeland-Morgan endured intimidation, exclusion and threatening behavior at the hands of some of her superiors.

In April 2008, Copeland-Morgan and the DNR reached an out-of-court settlement.
The DNR paid $300,000 in exchange for Copeland-Morgan's willingness to drop all formal complaints and claims. Copeland-Morgan retired from the DNR one year ago. She declined to comment on the settlement.

In her report, Strayhorn concluded that Marble, who supervised both Green and Copeland-Morgan, contributed to a "hostile, offensive and intimidating" environment.

[SIZE=+2]Fewer workers[/SIZE]

Two years since Strayhorn's investigation identifying an "oppressive culture" of intolerance, bullying and fear in the Law Enforcement Division there are fewer black employees (seven) than it had in May 2007 (10). The division itself also is smaller. It had 263 then and now has 253.

DNR spokeswoman Mary Dettloff said the DNR is constantly trying to recruit more minorities.

"We are often criticized for our lack of people of color in our ranks," Dettloff acknowledged in an e-mail.

Green asserts in his suit that he was the target of retaliation from his supervisors after his answers to Strayhorn's questions supported another black supervisor's discrimination claims.

Hired by the DNR in 1996, Green, who lives in Oakland County, remains an employee.
Marble called the civil rights investigation "unfair."

"(Strayhorn) was given bad information, and put too much emphasis on some negative statements," Marble said.

Marble said his retirement, after nearly 29 years with the department, was the result, in part, of his belief that DNR Director Rebecca Humphries had "lost faith" in him.
"I could have kicked and screamed," he said, "but I'm enough of a team player to know it was time for me to go."

Strayhorn's report included: recommendations for eliminating the "pervasive perception ... of exclusion, avoidance, intimidation and fear ..." in the Law Enforcement Division.

Among those recommendations: "Prevent retaliation against officers who complained, acted as witnesses, or participated in the investigation."

DNR officials continue to decline to comment on the Strayhorn investigation.


Copeland-Morgan settlement-http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/assets/pdf/A31207351023.PDF

Sgt. Arthur Green lawsuit - http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/assets/pdf/A31207361023.PDF
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