More than 20 employees at a state agency said they have been treated unfairly because of the color of their skin.
State workers say this has been years in the making after experiencing years of discrimination.
All of the employees work at the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS).
The complaints are for a wide range of issues but the common thread is an accusation that African American employees have been singled out and either punished for things that white workers are not or they are punished more severely.
Now the state is investigating the complaints through the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity.
The commission has already looked into one wrongful termination allegation but on Thursday they listened to three hours of testimony from aggrieved employees as well as the NAACP.
A woman who works in the medical records department says she needs to speak up even though it is intimidating.
“I still feel alone because you still have that fear I know they're watching me and when you come in you don't know how they’re going to retaliate,” said Juanita Melton, a DMHAS employee.
One suitcase filled with thousands of documents – That’s how Bernadette Riddick records and remembers 12 years of what she calls discriminatory behavior by her employer, DMHAS.
“For me, the fight has been for a very, very long time,” she said.
Riddick and more than 19 other employees are speaking out about what they call systemic racism within DMHAS.
“I'm optimistic now because we are doing this and we are finally coming together,” Riddick said.
Riddick, who works as a counselor supervisor at Connecticut Valley Hospital, says over the last 12 years she has been treated unfairly, sometimes physically.
“One time I had a manager grab me by the neck and pull me,” Riddick said.
But most of her complaints stem from what she considers prejudicial behavior like when one of her bosses brought up the look on her face.
“My supervisor called me and said they're complaining about your facial expressions. That you don't smile,” she said, as well as being told she was fraternizing too much with another African American colleague. “I got called in by my supervisor and said that my other coworkers were complaining because this other black supervisor and I were spending too much time together.”
Riddick is not alone.
Medical records expert Melton says she realized there was a problem when a supervisor accidentally included her on an email where she described Melton in derogatory terms.
Melton provided what she says is a copy of the email.
“I'm certified crazy and I like being poor. Those characteristics are how they describe me,” Melton said.
Commissioners will now investigate the complaints.
In a statement, DMHAS said “The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) is committed to equality among all employees as well as fair and impartial treatment. Commissioner Delphin-Rittmon will be attending the hearing on Thursday evening both to hear comments from those with concerns and to share her thoughts. The Department, as a large healthcare organization, is continuously working to address equity in our workforce. We offer training and education for staff, as well as multiple avenues to address employee complaints. Employees are also welcome to participate in various work groups and advisory committees across the department.”
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