Outside investigator to evaluate discrimination charges against D.C. board

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An independent investigator will review allegations that the board that adjudicates employment disputes in the District discriminated against whites, conservatives and pregnant women, according to Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s office.

The Public Employee Relations Board came under scrutiny last week after its former executive director, Ondray T. Harris, resigned in protest of board members who rebuked him for hiring a white male and suggested they would like to “get rid of” a pregnant female employee because they perceived her to harbor right-of-center political views.

Mr. Gray has the power to appoint and seek dismissal of the five-member quasi-judicial independent agency that resolves labor-management disputes between D.C. agencies and unionized city employees. When the allegations surfaced last week, his office’s first response was to suggest that the board’s chairwoman determine the credibility of the claims.

When asked whether Wynter Allen could be impartial enough to investigate her fellow board members, a spokesman for the mayor said an outside body would undertake that review.

“We look forward to reviewing those findings and taking whatever appropriate action may be necessary at that time,” Pedro Ribeiro said.

Which may be a good thing, according to Mr. Harris, who said Ms. Allen was present Nov. 8 when, during an executive session, board members Don Wasserman and Ann Hoffman allegedly “expressed their displeasure” that he had hired Erin Wilcox, a white female who previously worked for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, was a law clerk with the Koch fellowship program at the conservative Institute for Justice, and interned with the Federal Public Defender and the National Labor Relations Board.

At that same meeting, Ms. Allen looked on as Mr. Wasserman similarly demanded that Mr. Harris “refrain from hiring white men” when filling open attorney-adviser positions, according to Mr. Harris‘ resignation letter.

“She acquiesced to those remarks,” he said. “Her sin was inaction. It makes it look as if she can’t control her own board.”

Mr. Harris was so upset by the remarks that he sought a legal opinion by the board’s general counsel, Keturah Denise Harley, who concluded in a Dec. 19 memo that “it is intrinsically illegal for the board to consider hiring or not hiring a potential employee because of their race” and that “it is illegal and discriminatory for Board Members Wasserman and Hoffman to request that the executive director avoid hiring an employee on the basis of their possible political affiliation.”

Mr. Harris said that after he resigned, the matter was brought to the attention of D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat who helms the Committee on Government Operations. Mr. McDuffie has yet to respond or act.

Neither Mr. McDuffie nor committee members Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat; Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat and a candidate for mayor; and at-large council members David Catania, an independent, and Vincent B. Orange, a Democrat, responded to requests for comment.

The Washington Examiner last week reported that Mr. Harris resigned under pressure for having violated the District’s residency laws by living in Virginia. But Mr. Harris said the board never questioned his residency until after it surfaced in a May 9 story in The Washington Times, despite repeated reminders by him dating to 2011.

Documents obtained by The Times show that in a June 2011 complaint before the board, a claimant argued that Mr. Harris was not fit to serve because his residency status violated D.C. law.

Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Kristopher Baumann, whose members frequently go before the board, said it “has severely harmed its reputation as an institution.” Of the Gray administration’s response to the matter, Mr. Baumann added, “Why is it that the laws are only important and worth being followed when there is public scrutiny?”

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