Michigan’s Civil Rights Commission voted to fire Agustin Arbulu, the state’s civil rights director, in a five-to-two vote Tuesday after a seven-hour meeting. The commission’s board concluded that keeping Arbulu in his current position would go against its mission statement.
“We have reached a point where circumstances beyond the commission have made it impossible for him to do an effective job for the commission and for the department,” Commission Chair Alma Wheeler Smith said, according to MLive. Furthermore, she called Arbulu a “very good director” who was effective and had a “good work ethic.”
Arbulu came under fire when an investigation found he made inappropriate comments about a woman and questioned co-worker Todd Heywood’s sexuality at a work event. He told Heywood, who is gay, “would you look at that woman” and “check out her ass.” When Heywood reacted negatively to the comments, Arbulu suggested Heywood didn’t understand because “he did not like women.”
On Tuesday, the commission voted to waive its attorney-client privilege with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel so the public could see the letter originally used to decide that Arbulu should be reprimanded and not fired.
“It should be noted that while it is our opinion that Mr. Heywood’s claims may not be actionable under the applicable civil rights statutes, we have not offered an opinion with regard to whether or not the conduct alleged may violate the standards of conduct that MDCR sets for its director. That is a question that must be answered by the commission,” Nessel wrote.
The former civil rights director took a leave of absence on August 20 after state politicians, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, criticized the commission’s decision to initially just reprimand him. Earlier this month, she wrote a letter calling for his resignation and went so far as to ban Arbulu from cabinet meetings.
“The most important concern I have — and I think anyone should have — is whether or not that department is able to carry forward with their mission,” Whitmer told the Detroit Free Press Tuesday. “And because of all of the revelations in the last couple months, I think it’s a legitimate fear that it’s been so undermined that they’re unable to carry out their mission.”
Arbulu had been Michigan’s civil rights director since 2015.
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