Nearly a month after D.C. Attorney General Robert J. Spagnoletti said that bias complaints against one of his top aides were unfounded, that official has resigned and plans are in motion to hire a full-time equal employment opportunity director and provide mandatory diversity training to the staff.
In the first of a series of messages posted on the Web site of the Office of the Attorney General, Spagnoletti listed several initiatives, including a restated policy that mandates diversity, equal employment opportunity and interpersonal skills training for all managers.
"The city's law office should be a role model among city agencies in protecting the human rights of our employees," Spagnoletti said in the Sept. 30 message. "Communication and education are the best ways to achieve those goals."
Spagnoletti's announcement came just days before the resignation of Kristin Henrikson, chief of the legal services section for the Child Support Services Division, and after an inquiry by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General. Henrikson's resignation was effective last Friday. Traci L. Hughes, a spokeswoman for Spagnoletti, said that Henrikson was not asked to resign.
Henrikson's resignation follows accusations by three black lawyers, whose attorney said she showed "a clear and unmistakable preference toward white attorneys." They said Henrikson spoke to black people in a disparaging tone and used racially derogatory language.
In the Internet message, Spagnoletti, one of three candidates for an opening on the bench of D.C. Superior Court, said that all his employees will participate in diversity training. Additional funding for training and career development will be available during fiscal 2006, he said.
He added that a full-time equal employment opportunity director will be hired to handle all EEO-related complaints in a timely manner. The new director will be responsible for handling any bias complaints and staff training and making sure the equal employment process works more efficiently and is user-friendly.
Joseph Bradley, secretary-treasurer of Local 2401 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, was cautiously optimistic about the proposed changes in the attorney general's office. "We are waiting for the outcome of the inspector general's investigation because we don't know what to expect," Bradley said. "It sounds good. . . . We do want changes. It looks like a first step."
In August, Bradley, acting on behalf of the union representing non-attorneys, asked the city's inspector general to investigate whether Spagnoletti had abused his authority by removing Angela Harvey, chairman of the attorney general's internal Equal Employment Officers Committee, from her position before she could issue findings of discrimination. Spagnoletti said then that Harvey had asked to be removed. Harvey declined to comment.
The three lawyers who accused Henrikson of discrimination and retaliation filed charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission because they said their complaints to the officers committee had not received a response in six months.
Last month, Spagnoletti said that the internal investigation had been completed. He said the new chairman of the officers committee, Tarifah Coaxum, had determined that Henrikson did not discriminate against the lawyers after interviewing 20 employees and reviewing more than 1,000 pages of documents.
Spagnoletti said he is implementing the new initiatives calling for diversity training as part of an ongoing effort to improve the overall operation of the attorney general's office.
He said his deputy for professional development is reviewing the office's hiring and retention policies and practices to ensure that the hiring committee is "dynamic, diverse and reflective of the agency's workforce."
Spagnoletti said that he will answer employee questions and encourage continuing dialogue about the proposed changes and other personnel issues. He said he wants to assure current employees and potential hires that his office is committed to "creating a welcoming and nondiscriminatory environment."