Growing Calls for Resignation of Michigan Civil Rights Director

By | 2019-08-13T11:30:21-04:00 August 13th, 2019|Michigan, News|

Public controversy has surrounded Michigan Department of Civil Rights Executive Director Agustin Arbulu since early August when documents were released alleging that in May he urged a department employee to “check out” a woman’s “ass” among other lewd comments. That employee is Communications Analyst and former BTL contributor Todd Heywood, who said after he confronted Arbulu about the statements he was told he wouldn’t understand because he didn’t “like women.”
Joanne Bridgford is an equal employment opportunity administrator for the Michigan Department of Corrections and investigated this incident. In a July 16 summary memo she concluded that “it is more likely than not, that Director Arbulu did make inappropriate, offensive comments regarding women to Mr. Heywood in violation of the work rule [for prohibiting harassment].”
“In addition, Director Arbulu more likely than not made additional comments to Mr. Heywood regarding his sexual orientation,” the memo went on. “The comments and communication did interfere with Mr. Heywood’s employment and created an offensive work environment for him.”
Bridgford also included that “… Director Arbulu did make inappropriate comments to this investigator when he indicated that he did eventually see his daughter at a subsequent listening session and that ‘she looked hot.’”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer examined the memorandum and in an Aug. 2 letter to the Commission, made up of eight evenly divided Democratic and Republican members, asked why they did not take steps to fire Arbulu who was appointed in 2015 by former Gov. Rick Snyder.
“I have serious concerns with the Commission’s decision to retain the director in his position but remove him from certain responsibilities while he receives training related to this matter,” the letter read. “The findings in this report about the director’s actions runs headlong against the very mission of the department. For the same reason, I also have serious concerns about the director’s ability to lead the department moving forward and the department’s ability to carry out its mission and serve the people of Michigan.”
Whitmer does not have the authority to fire Arbulu herself. Since the release of the news, various politicians including state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. and Minority Leader Christine Greig have called for Arbulu’s resignation and the group Progress Michigan also started a petition campaigning for his removal from office. The Detroit News reported that the Director of Law and Policy for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights Daniel Levy informed Arbulu that he could no longer work for him and would use his annual leave to examine his future in his role.
“I have been wrestling with this decision for some time and after taking the weekend to reread the statements you have provided in response to your initial offending comments, I find I have no other option,” Levy wrote. “I am simply not able to properly do my job under the present circumstances.”
Despite this push for Arbulu’s removal, The Detroit News reported that Chair Alma Wheeler Smith has decided to keep him on staff and pursue a “restorative justice discipline model” in hopes of reintegrating him into the office. Wheeler Smith added that, “If that doesn’t work to the commission’s satisfaction, the commission can take other action.”
The Detroit Free Press reported that Arbulu called his actions a “mistake” that he regrets and said that he would like to continue in his role. Regarding the comments about his daughter, Arbulu wrote, “I only mentioned this to the investigator to set the stage. The fact was I was looking for my daughter and excited to see her, but Heywood thought he was a ‘stereotypical perverted old man.'”

About the Author:

Eve Kucharski
As news and feature editor at Between The Lines, Eve Kucharski's work has spanned the realms of current events and entertainment. She's chatted with stars like Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho and Tyler Oakley as well as political figures like Gloria Steinem, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel. Her coverage of the November 2018 elections was also featured in a NowThis News report.