Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights Director Takes Leave of Absence After Public Backlash


Agustin Arbulu, the director of Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights, is taking a leave of absence after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and numerous elected officials called for his resignation. The length of Arbulu’s absence is unknown at this time.

People started calling for his resignation after an investigation found he made inappropriate comments about a woman and questioned another co-worker’s sexuality at a work event.

The incident happened May 29 in an alleged conversation between Arbulu and communication specialist Todd Heywood. Heywood told an investigator that Arbulu said to him “would you look at that woman” and “check out her ass” when referring to a blonde woman picking her kid up. When Heywood responded negatively to the comments, Arbulu suggested Heywood didn’t understand because “he did not like women.”

Arbulu did not recall the conversation when the investigator asked him about the comments. However, he told the investigator that if he made inappropriate comments they would have been about his adult daughter.

Arbulu’s daughter Sarah told The Detroit News August 12 that “she hopes the public will not cast judgment on her father without considering his full body of work in the Department of Civil Rights, which he has headed since 2015.”

As The Michigan Star previously reported, Whitmer did not agree with the Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s decision to reprimand Arbulu, but allow him to continue to serve in his role. Last week, she announced Arbulu would not be able to attend cabinet meetings anymore.

“The department has a critical mission: to prevent discrimination and to investigate and resolve discrimination complaints. This charge is as important today as ever. By his actions, and his response to the ensuing investigation, I believe the director has compromised that mission and lacks the credibility his position demands,” Whitmer wrote last week.

The department responded to Whitmer’s letter by saying “the sexual harassment complaint before us was not actionable” and a “restorative justice discipline model” aligns more with the department’s mission.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights reprimanded Arbulu on August 1 for his “inappropriate comments.”

“We have determined that while the conduct of which the director was accused did not violate the law, his behavior fell short of the conduct the Commission expects of its Director.”

Michigan’s Civil Rights Commission has named Deputy Director of the Department of Civil Rights Mary Engleman as acting director.

“I’m confident Mary will do an exemplary job of leading the department and guiding our efforts to refocus on the many civil rights challenges that face us,” Civil Rights Commission Chairwoman Alma Wheeler Smith said in a statement.

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Zachery Schmidt is the digital editor of Battleground State NewsFollow Zachery on Twitter.




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