The Durham Human Relations Commission has recommended the city take nine steps to address disparities in the treatment, discipline and promotion of black and white employees in the Water Management Department.
Those steps include reviewing hiring and promotion decisions, examining the city manager’s ability to overturn grievance hearing recommendations and examining racial disparities in drug testing.
The recommendations, recently presented to the Durham City Council, follow former Water Management Department employees coming to the Durham City Council more than a year ago alleging unequal treatment of black and white employees.
Those concerns were reviewed by City Manager Tom Bonfield’s office and the Human Resources Department. Bonfield directed the Human Resources Department to investigate disciplinary practices, grievance decisions, promotions and other data.
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Meanwhile, the Durham Human Relations Commission, a 15-member citizen board appointed by the City Council, also formed a subcommittee to review the concerns and make recommendations.
The Human Resources Department analyzed discipline logs from 2011 through September 2014. It founddiscipline was more severe when the employee and supervisor were of different races than when they were of the same. In some cases, minority employees were more seriously disciplined than white workers for similar offenses.
The department’s recommendations included conducting focus groups with Water Management’s staff, instituting a review process of written reprimands or above, completing monthly discipline reports, and retaining a consultant to develop and deliver bias training.
On Nov. 2 the City Council approved a $99,187 contract with Fairfax, Virginia-based JJA Consultants to administer an implicit bias assessment of all Water Management employees, followed by a four-month training intervention program tailored to the department.
On Thursday, the Human Relations Commission presented nine additional recommendations to the City Council.
The recommendations include:
▪ The Water Management Department recruit and prepare internal candidates within the department for supervisory positions. Employees in management positions receive racial equity training, followed by measures that evaluate the effectiveness of the instruction.
▪ The Human Resources Department review hiring and promotion decisions by the Water Management Department.
▪ The city increase the scope and accessibility of its grievance policy.
▪ The City Council examine the city manager’s office ability to overturn grievance hearing recommendations. Human Relations Commissioner Girija Mahajan said that recommendation is to address concerns about the city manager’s ability to overturn and make final decision on concerns, despite previous conclusions that were more favorable to employees. The council should also examine the implementation of its drug testing policy to address concerns about racial disparities.
Mayor Bill Bell asked that the commission return with more specific information, such as what other cities do.
Bonfield said his office would prepare a response to the commission’s recommendations.
Nathanette Mayo, a Water Management Department employee and a member of UE 150 Durham City Workers Union, said training may be helpful for a few department managers, but “some simply need to be gotten rid of.”
“These same managers show no sensitivity, concern or remorse in creating and allowing the current environment to exist,” Mayo said. “We do not believe their hearts and true nature can be changed.”
All employees who were unfairly dismissed and demoted should be rehired, she said.
Mayo also said that the union has always opposed random drug testing due to concerns that it isn’t consistently applied.
See the entire Human Relations Commission report at http://bit.ly/DWDreport.