Spoke Out, Got Fired
We received this update on Comrade Cornell Lewis fight with DCF. The article is by Susan Haight from AP.
Susan Haigh, Associated Press, Hartford Conn.
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — An activist minister and Department of Children and Families employee who has long been critical of his employer over racial issues, has been fired from his job as a youth service officer at the agency’s Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown.
A DCF spokesman confirmedfor The Associated Press that Cornell Lewis, a six-year employee at the state’s only secure facility for delinquent teenage boys, was terminated on July 3 following an incident last October when he failed to supervise youth under his care.
Gary Kleeblatt said Lewis was found on a computer with two other officers looking at non-work related content when a youth “received a serious injury.”
Lewis and another officer were looking at the computer for approximately 25 minutes, while the third was watching for about four minutes, DCF said.
Kleeblatt said Lewis had failed “his most important duty and responsibility.”
Lewis, 63, contends his firing, which he plans to challenge, is retaliation for his years of activism and public criticism of DCF and CJTS.
“The incident is being used as an excuse to get to me,” he told the AP. “I’ve been targeted for the six years that I’ve been at DCF. I’ve been targeted as a black man who exercises his free speech and DCF has a bad record of disproportionately disciplining black men.”
Lewis has been involved in a number of protests over the years, attempting to draw attention to what he claims is a racist attitude at both DCF and the training school. In 2009 he went so far as to encourage residents to refuse services from DCF because he said it lacked sufficient minority staff.
Lewis is part of a discrimination lawsuit filed in 2010 that is still pending. Lewis and three other African-American employees at CJTS sued DCF, alleging black employees have been the target of racially motivated disciplinary actions and are promoted at a lesser rate. The lawsuit also said the workers’ concerns have been ignored by their supervisors and they’ve faced other forms of harassment. Lewis also writes a blog about CJTS called “DCF Plantation.”
His attorney, New Haven lawyer Lewis Chimes, is representing the plaintiffs in the discrimination lawsuit. He said he plans to add Lewis’ termination as an additional claim of retaliation. Meanwhile, he said Lewis can appeal his termination through his union.
Chimes also said there is a hearing scheduled next month concerning DCF’s plans to put Lewis on a child abuse and neglect registry, which could prevent him from working with children in the future.
Chimes said he believes DCF’s actions concerning Lewis have been excessive.
“I feel that he was retaliated against for being outspoken,” he said.
In 2011, Lewis waged a seven-day hunger strike to protest what he called a racist attitude by mostly white supervisors toward employees at CJTS. That protest ultimately led to a legislative hearing at the state Capitol in July 2012, where lawmakers were urged by past and present employees to review conditions for the training school workers.
In 2009, Lewis and a group he created, The Men and Women of Color, went door-to-door in Hartford, trying to persuade residents to refuse services from DCF in an effort to draw attention to what they said was a lack of minority input into a state agency whose clientele are more often black and Hispanic.
In response to Lewis’ criticisms, DCF has consistently said it is one of the most diverse agencies in state government and values diversity.
When asked to respond to Lewis’ allegations that his termination stems from his activism, Kleeblatt said in a written statement that “the discipline of Mr. Lewis is the result of this incident, which is very serious and resulted in an injury to a youth in the care of the Department.”
Kleeblatt said the second youth service officer who watched the computer for 25 minutes is in the middle of a human resources investigation and disciplinary action is pending. The third officer received a 29-day unpaid suspension. DCF said that officer discovered the incident involving the youths and reported it to management.