Civil Rights director reprimanded for inappropriate comments

A photo of Agustin Arbulu. (Courtesy: Michigan Department of Civil Rights)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is asking a state agency responsible for investigating discrimination complaints to explain why a director who was reprimanded for making inappropriate comments that objectified women is being retained.

In a letter Friday to members of Michigan’s Civil Rights Commission, which reviews complaints involving race and gender, Whitmer said an investigative report into actions by Civil Rights Director Agustin Arbulu run “headlong against the very mission of the department.”

Whitmer also wrote that she has “serious concerns about Arbulu’s ability to lead the department.

The commission voted this week to reprimand Arbulu for remarks made to a male staffer in May about a woman attending a meeting.

A formal complaint will be placed in Arbulu’s personnel file and he has to submit to a training and mentorship program that has to be completed before the end of the year, Civil Rights Commission Chair Alma Wheeler Smith said in a statement.

During the training period, Arbulu can’t conduct internal or external training sessions on his own, Smith said.

“We have determined that while the conduct of which the director was accused did not violate the law, his behavior fell short of the conduct the commission expects of its director,” Smith said.

Details of the comments were not released, but the remark was about a member of the public, commission spokeswoman Vicki Levengood said Friday.

An investigation of the remark led to Arbulu’s reprimand which was announced Thursday.

“Recently I made comments objectifying women — comments that were unacceptable and regrettable,” Arbulu said in his own statement. “I take full responsibility. I am deeply sorry and will not allow it to happen again. While I cannot change the past, I intend to use this experience as a learning opportunity, to help me become a better person and a better leader.”

Whitmer said she has reviewed a July 16 memorandum summarizing the investigation of a “discriminatory harassment complaint” against Arbulu and reviewed his July 29 written response.

The investigative report said “it is more likely than not” that Arbulu made inappropriate, offensive comments regarding women to a male staffer in violation of the department’s work rule for prohibiting harassment, Whitmer wrote Friday.

Additional comments — “more likely than not” — were made to the staffer regarding his “sexual orientation” and the comments and communication interfered with the staffer’s employment “and created an offensive work environment for him,” according to Whitmer.

Whitmer is asking the commission to provide her with a written and detailed explanation — no later than Aug. 12 — as to why the commission chose to retain Arbulu as director.

Arbulu was appointed in 2013 to the commission by then-Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican. He has been director of the Civil Rights department since 2015.

Whitmer, a Democrat, is in her first term as governor. Her office said Friday that the Civil Rights director is an appointee of the Civil Rights Commission.

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