DMHAS workers speak out ahead of hearing on discrimination complaints

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) — Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) employees from across the state will be attending a public hearing in Meriden to discuss widespread claims of racial discrimination. The hearing is being convened Thursday, Jan. 25 by the Commission on Human Rights Opportunities after receiving dozens of complaints.

“Very happy to hear that because it’s way long overdue,” said head nurse Felicia Okyeia upon learning of the hearing.

Ahead of the meeting Thursday, a group of black current and retired DMHAS employees with a combined 77-years of service sat down with News 8’s Mario Boone to share their concerns.

“If it’s not race, I don’t know what else it is,” Okyeia said.

DMHAS retiree Gregory Williams agreed saying, it’s “racism and it’s a buddy system also.”

Some of the complaints date as far back as 2004, according to addiction counselor Bernadette T. Riddick, who has been with DMHAS 29 years. The allegations also include claims of disparate treatment and discipline for black workers.

The workers presented a graph of data they say was compiled using the department’s own personnel data from 2003-2013. Records show black workers were fired at a rate of 72 percent compared to 22 percent of their white colleagues despite comprising a small percentage of the overall workforce.

Data also shows only three percent of blacks earn a salary greater than $120,000 a year compared to 70 percent of whites. A DMHAS spokeswoman was not able to independently confirm those numbers.

“I never been treated this way in Alabama and I came from Selma, Alabama,” said longtime records employee Juanita Melton.

Other allegations include mocking of Okyeia’s African accent. “I’m a Ghanian woman. I don’t know any other way to speak but the way I’m speaking right now.”

Gregory williams, dmhas retiree 17.17 “Because it’s so pervasive through the department.”

Riddick is a 29-year veteran counselor with what she says are pages and pages of documented examples of racism. She said the alleged harassment at DMHAS is so bad, “I’m still under doctor’s care both physically and emotionally.”

A DMHAS spokeswoman released this statement saying:

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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