Human rights

Kalamazoo rehabilitation center violated civil rights law, ex-employee sues

KALAMAZOO COUNTY, MI – A lawsuit says workers at Kalamazoo-based community healing centers have committed multiple civil rights violations.

Timothy Henson was fired in retaliation for raising concerns over racial pay disparities, racist comments and security breaches related to COVID-19, lawsuit filed in U.S. District District Court says western Michigan.

Henson joined the Kalamazoo County Rehabilitation Treatment Center in 2019, according to the lawsuit. He is a clinical social worker and worked as a clinical director of children’s services before being fired in November.

He began supervising a black woman in July 2020 when human resources director Mark Ferguson scheduled a meeting, according to the lawsuit. During that meeting, Ferguson told Henson that the only reason the black woman was still employed was because she was playing “the black card,” according to the lawsuit.

When Henson interviewed a black person in February, Ferguson said the team “discriminated against whites,” and he said “diversity hires are a mistake,” according to the lawsuit. Ferguson then told Henson that race should not be factored into job applications, but interviewers do not know a candidate’s race until an interview, according to the lawsuit.

The center does not comment on pending litigation, but is eager to share its side of the story in court, executive director Chris Slater said in a statement to MLive. Slater joined the center as the new executive director in June 2021.

“The Community Healing Center is a community-driven organization that strives to hire and retain qualified candidates who reflect the communities we serve,” said Slater. “We invest significant time and resources in hiring exceptional talent from a diverse candidate pool and understand the benefits of having a very diverse staff and leadership team. We strongly reject racism in all its forms, which is reflected in our official policies, our code of ethics and our daily operations. “

Henson’s lawsuit goes on to claim that in a meeting Ferguson and Slater told Henson that a candidate for a white job was a “victim of reverse discrimination.” Henson told them the man was not considered because he showed up for the interview wearing a sweaty t-shirt and was unprepared, according to the lawsuit.

Henson made raise recommendations for all of the employees he supervises, including a recommendation for a $ 2,000 raise for a black woman. Slater accepted all of the increases, the lawsuit said.

However, the black woman was only awarded $ 1,000 and she successfully appealed the decision. A non-black male employee received a raise of $ 4,000, according to the lawsuit.

Henson sent an email about racial disparities in the pay structure to Slater, according to the lawsuit.

Community Healing Centers ended a mask warrant in July. Henson emailed his direct supervisor Mike Pioch and Ferguson, saying he believed the center was breaking the law because masks are mandatory in a healthcare facility.

Pioch said the center was not a health facility, according to the lawsuit.

Henson then contacted the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration and an employee encouraged him to file a safety complaint, which he did, according to the lawsuit.

On August 10, Slater became Henson’s direct supervisor and a direct report was reassigned from Henson, according to the lawsuit.

Henson received a disciplinary report during an Aug. 11 meeting with Slater and Ferguson, according to the lawsuit. The article stated that part of the problem was Henson’s unprofessional character.

In an email about the MIOSHA complaints, Henson said “maybe I wasn’t clear enough,” the lawsuit said.

In the article, Skater said the statement was “very passive” and disrespectful. Slater also wrote, “Additionally, a staff member on your team received a copy of this email. It’s very unprofessional. Please do not copy staff members when addressing or ‘calling’ your management / leadership teammates about potentially sensitive issues. “

Henson had to sign a document saying the next step was a final warning or firing if he didn’t follow through with the changes he was supposed to make, according to the lawsuit.

This skipped two stages in the centers’ disciplinary policy, according to the lawsuit.

Henson was asked to write to a black employee over a disrespectful email sent to Ferguson and was threatened with discipline if he didn’t, according to the lawsuit.

Ferguson sent Henson an edited version of his article on Sept. 14 that removed language on final warnings and termination, according to the lawsuit.

After a meeting between Henson and Pioch, Pioch sent a summary of Henson’s concerns to Slater and Ferguson. In response, Ferguson said: “Tim Henson retaliates with his accusations … He crosses out and uses the most damaging accusations possible … Tim has a scheme of embellishment and even lying to add impact to any case that he can. ‘he presents,’ according to the lawsuit.

Henson told MIOSHA on Aug. 26 that he believed the article was in retaliation for his COVID-19-related safety complaints, according to the lawsuit.

Henson also pointed out the wage disparity and inflammatory racist comments to the Kalamazoo branch of the NAACP. An employee filed a complaint with the IRS, saying the center may have violated its status as a nonprofit by violating federal and state civil rights laws, according to the lawsuit.

Henson filed a discrimination complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, alleging he faced unlawful retaliation and a hostile work environment after supporting his black colleagues, according to the lawsuit.

Henson was fired on Nov. 3, in a letter from Slater.

The lawsuit alleges the center violated Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, Michigan Whistleblower Protection Act and COVID-19 Employment Rights Act.

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