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Dallas Arboretum Addresses Discrimination Complaints


Dallas Aboretum | Image by Catering by Chef Kent Rathbun

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On June 27, the Dallas Arboretum Board of Directors responded to complaints alleging LGBTQ discrimination.

In recent months, at least three Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints have been filed claiming LGBTQ-based discrimination, WFAA reported.

One of the more recent complaints came from employee David Jeffcoat, who was first hired as a gate attendant in 2014 and was eventually promoted to a supervisor. In Jeffcoat’s complaint, he claimed he was treated poorly after coworkers learned he was gay.

Jeffcoat said he missed work after slipping on ice in February and was later fired. The reason listed for his termination was Jeffcoat’s failure to finish parts of a performance improvement plan, WFAA reported. However, Jeffcoat claimed he was fired after “coming out” to his work manager.

The Dallas Arboretum responded to his complaint in mid-June, stating, “We are sad that an employee would feel they had been treated unfairly and will thoroughly investigate the allegations made in the charges of discrimination. The Arboretum does not comment on confidential personnel matters, including investigations.”

Last week, an LGBTQ advocacy group called Resource Center sent a letter to the Arboretum to call for changes.

Cece Cox, the CEO of Resource Center, said last Monday, “The bottom line is, there’s discrimination happening at the Arboretum, and there’s a culture that is not supporting its employees. Current and former employees have spoken to me. They’ve spoken to my colleagues, and we’re hearing a lot of things that aren’t right.”

Last week’s letter from Resource Center asked for equitable benefits for employees, allowing pronouns to be included in email signatures, protective policies for LGBTQ workers, and mandatory cultural competency training, according to WFAA.

The Dallas Arboretum Board of Directors held a one-hour-long meeting on June 27 to address the complaints. The board released a letter listing actions it will take, including changing current policies and reviewing the work culture.

“The Arboretum strives to improve and to be an outstanding example of inclusiveness,” James S. Ryan, III, Arboretum board chair, said in the letter. “The recent claims have caused the organization to take steps over the past months to examine and improve its policies, procedures, practices, and culture so that the organization can undergo institutional change and ensure that all of its constituents are heard and welcome.”

He added that many changes the Resource Center letter asked for were already being implemented, such as updating the employee manual to include “language reflecting diversity and inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression among employees” and “allowing the use of pronouns on email signatures.”

Ryan told WFAA that the online Diversion, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) statement had also been updated, and staff members will undergo mandatory staff training.

The letter also outlined five new steps the Arboretum plans to take in the future:

1. Feedback and guidance on HR Best Practices such as complaint procedures, leave policies and practices, and equity pay structures;

2. Review of hiring policies and practices with an emphasis on diversity;

3. Targeted support for leaders regarding the current state of DEI efforts at the Arboretum, areas of opportunity moving forward, and the implementation of DEI programs;

4. Consultative support regarding drivers of employee turnover and efforts to develop employee retention programs for the Arboretum; and

5. A Work Culture Assessment for the Arboretum.

Ryan stated the group has spent recent months looking for ways to improve.

“We haven’t been sitting still when all of this has been percolating. We’ve taken several actions to improve our diversity, equity, and inclusion program, and we’re taking additional actions to make the Arboretum an even better place than it is now,” Ryan told WFAA.

The response from the Dallas Arboretum also denied the suggestion by Resource Center that the organization may have violated non-discrimination policies.

The response letter claims, “Counsel to the Arboretum has completed its investigation of the allegations in two of the EEOC claims, and those investigations did not result in a finding that the Arboretum engages in employment practices in violation of Dallas City Code provisions that prohibit discrimination.”

The Dallas Arboretum has also hired an HR consulting firm to assist with the assessments and policy changes.      

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