City of Cleveland Says It'll Investigate Allegations of Discrimination, Toxic Culture in Department of Public Health


  • Department of Public Health Director Merle Gordon, Photo by Rachel Dissell
The city of Cleveland in a late Friday afternoon email told Department of Public Health employees it had reopened an internal Equal Employment Opportunity investigation concerning allegations of discrimination and concerns that a generally toxic culture pervades the dysfunctional department.

It "received several emails and telephone calls from staff" that "center around questions and concerns on department moral, employee workplace complaints, workforce attrition and departmental management styles," the staff email said.

A reopened Equal Employment Opportunity investigation was broadly announced to be helmed by Nycole West from HR and Martin Flask, an executive assistant to Mayor Frank Jackson. Over the weekend, the city announced Tracy Martin Thompson, Chief of Prevention, Intervention and Opportunity for Youth and Adults would join the team leading the investigation. Both West and Thompson are Black.

As the public now knows, current and former health department staffers had, for nearly a year, attempted to make their complaints heard to those in charge through official channels. The response from the city, and Public Heath Director Merle Gordon, was to ignore them. While the general culture and lack of support from leaders were two key problems, staffers also said Black and brown women were particularly targeted and sidelined.

For some of those reasons and oftentimes for many of them, more than a quarter (30) of the department's employees have either resigned or opted to work in other jobs for the city since 2017.

Those allegations were the subject of a months-long reporting project by Rachel Dissell and Jordyn Grzelewski, including interviews with staffers who chose to talk to reporters because their concerns were sidelined by superiors.

Dissell and Grzelewski presented the city and the health department with specific questions during that period, but received no response until late last week, after the city was informed the story would be published.

Days later, the email was sent to CDPH staffers and the city briefly mentioned the investigation in a Friday evening news release.

"The City of Cleveland today reached out to CDPH employees regarding concerns on department morale, employee workplace complaints, workforce attrition and departmental management styles. The Department of Human Resources issued several workforce improvement recommendations specific to Cleveland Department of Public Health," the city's press release said.

Scene has asked the city for clarification on the scope, timeframe and purpose of the investigation and whether its results would be released to the public. We'll update you if and when the city provides answers.

You can read the in-depth story that prodded the response here.

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