Mark Hicks and Shawn D. Lewis The Detroit News
Published 12:56 PM EDT Oct 15, 2019
The city of Warren’s former diversity coordinator is suing the city, its mayor and police officials, alleging he was wrongfully terminated after working to address civil rights violations amid a “racially hostile and toxic work environment.”
According to the federal lawsuit filed Monday, city officials prevented Gregory Murray, who is African-American and started his job in January 2017, from investigating inappropriate, improper or alleged illegal activities that hindered diversity and inclusion in the police, fire and other departments.
Some of his claims involve DeSheila Howlett, an African-American former police officer who sued Warren, alleging she suffered racial and gender discrimination, and harassment between 2000 and 2016 because the city did not require diversity training of her fellow officers.
Murray’s suit claims the city ignored his recommendations to remove two colleagues who repeatedly used racial slurs in front of Howlett. One was ordered to a one-day diversity training session more than a year later, according to the filing.
Other allegations involve embattled Warren Mayor James Fouts, who in recent years has been accused of a string of racist, sexist and controversial slurs about people with disabilities, African-Americans and women on audio recordings.
Murray accuses Fouts of retaliating against him after he confronted Fouts about how the mayor “disparagingly mimicked a person with Tourette’s syndrome” during Equal Employment Opportunity Commission training, rejecting his request to dismiss a fire official who used a racial slur and halting plans to form a diversity commission to address racial and discriminatory practices in the city.
Fouts said he has not yet seen a copy of the lawsuit.
“I was blindsided and puzzled that the lawsuit was given to the media and not to us,” he said during a Tuesday phone interview.
“I am highly offended that the lawsuit would attack the police and fire department. I am proud to defend out outstanding police and fire department. Mr. Murray has not worked for the city for two years since he resigned in 2017.
“I think it’s just at attempt to extort money from the city of Warren,” he said.
Murray also contends he faced retaliation after “assisting in identifying and filing a complaint of unlawful discrimination” involving the Police Department.
“We believe Mr. Murray was retaliated against for being brave enough to stand up against institutionalized racism in the highest levels of the city government, because the mayor believed it was politically advantageous to allow the racism to continue rather than address the issues,” attorney Marko said in a statement. “Mr. Murray lost his job for standing up for what is right.”
Marko refutes the claim by Fouts that he was “blindsided.”
“The fact that he said the lawsuit came out of the blue is absurd,” said Marko in a phone interview. “He knew d— well this was coming.”
Marko said Murray previously had filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “a long time ago.”
“To say that he was blindsided is a joke,” Marko continued. “They had the complaint from the EEOC and responded to it.”
He said the mayor and city attorney will be served with the lawsuit “as it goes through the normal course.”
Ethan Vinson, attorney for the city, said he had not yet seen the lawsuit. But he also agreed with Marko that they knew about the EEOC complaint.
“We knew the possibility of a lawsuit was there after he filed the EEOC complaint, because he had a right to sue letter, but this is not a quality case,” he said in a phone interview.
He said that after Murray filed the complaint with the EEOC, they conducted an investigation and issued a right to sue.
“We had outside counsel respond to it, basically saying there is no merit to the claim,” said Vinson.
He added, “Greg was the prince of City Hall. The mayor stopped in and talked to him every day.”
Asked how he will respond, Vinson said, “We will defend it vigorously.”
The lawsuit alleges city officials violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as Murray’s constitutional rights. It seeks compensatory damages, front and back pay, as well as an injunction requiring Warren to cease and desist all unlawful racial practices.
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