NAACP seeking investigation into allegations of discriminatory practices at state agency

NAACP seeking investigation into allegations of discriminatory practices at state agency


HARTFORD — The Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities is looking into allegations of discrimination within the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services after receiving a request Wednesday from the NAACP.

The commission will have two of its attorneys review the complaints and make recommendations, a range of actions that could include a public hearing, an investigation, or even a formal complaint against DMHAS.

Commission members said they could make a decision on a course of action as soon as their Nov. 8 meeting. The commission entered executive session for a preliminary discussion Wednesday, but said staff would first need to review the complaints before any action could occur.

Scot X. Esdaile, president of NAACP’s state chapter, said the organization has received 20 complaints over the last year from employees alleging discriminatory practices within DHMAS.

Jason Teal, president of the Meriden-Wallingford NAACP, said the allegations include “systematic discriminatory employment practices, unfair enforcement of department rules, disproportionately harsh treatment and punishment, retaliation, and harassment.”

Teal, who has organized the NAACP’s efforts on the issue, pushed for a public hearing as a way to allow other complainants to come forward. He also told the CHRO he had records from some employees to back their complaints.

“We believe that there is sufficient documents and facts and circumstances to support our position that DMHAS employees of color are frequently discriminated against, in violation of Connecticut law,” he said.

Diana Lijardi, a spokeswoman for DMHAS, said in a statement that the agency is “committed to maintaining a workforce that reflects the diversity of the individuals being served.” She also said DMHAS takes allegations of discrimination seriously, and “exercises due diligences” to ensure compliance with state and federal laws.

Esdaile said the number of complaints within one agency warrants serious attention.

“One thing the NAACP wants to make clear is that we do not want racism running rampant throughout the state of Connecticut,” he said.

CHRO Deputy Director Cheryl Sharp said the commission could file a complaint if it suspects widespread or systematic discrimination, but also urged individuals to file their own complaints. The CHRO can award damages to individuals, but only if they file their own complaint within 180 days of the alleged incident.

“I don’t want anyone to leave here today thinking that, because you came here, somehow this is your filing a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities as an individual,” she said.

When asked if the CHRO should broaden an investigation to look at conduct within other state agencies, Esdaile said he wanted the commission to prioritize the complaints brought forward Wednesday.

“We’re here right here, right now with these individuals and I can’t hold them off any longer,” he said. “We need to get this ball rolling.”

The CHRO had little discussion on the matter Wednesday, outside of questions for the NAACP and staff, but commission member Andrew Norton said he hopes the commission “will take an aggressive and high profile position and level of action” regarding their complaint.

“There’s just a lot of people involved, and maybe some of them are wrong and some of them are right, but some of them are probably right and we should help them to the bottom of it,” he added.
Twitter: @reporter_savino


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