Virginia state employee put on leave days after raising concerns about racism

Around the South

POWHATAN COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A state worker tells 8News he was placed on leave just days after raising concerns about systemic racism within the Virginia Department of Corrections.

“The timing is very suspicious,” said DOC employee Michael Murphy. He tells 8News he has worked in corrections for 30 years, eight of which, with the Virginia DOC.

“Several staff have told me, you’re the only one who speaks up for us,” Murphy told 8News.

Murphy, a unit manager at State Farm Correctional Center in Powhatan County, says while working there he noticed a pattern within the department: hard-working, qualified Black employees getting passed over for promotions.

“There’s been a practice, I noticed of African Americans being laterally moved involuntarily, several hours from their workplace,” Murphy said. “In one case, it was five hours away from her workplace.”

Murphy believes it’s designed to make them quit.

“It is happening very disproportionately to Blacks. I find it to be incredibly unfair and very discriminatory,” Murphy said.

So, as a manager, he decided to speak up. He first filed an EEOC complaint with the State of Virginia. Then, on Sept. 24, he filed a formal grievance with his immediate supervisor.

He says he alleged, “systemic racism within the department.”

Then, five days later, Murphy said, “I was put on administrative leave for lack of civility.”

Yet, in Murphy’s most recent work evaluation, he’s called a “champion for his staff,” and “exceeds contributor.” In a handwritten note, his boss writes, “I appreciate your commitment to our staff and mission.”

Murphy has spoken up about sexual misconduct, concerning social media posts and supervisors threatening “a civil war” and calling African Americans “boy.”

“I think they are retaliating,” Murphy revealed.

8News asked the Virginia Department of Corrections why the unit manager was put on leave? DOC spokesperson Lisa Kinney said in a statement:

“As I’m sure you’re aware, personnel records are confidential. Without speaking to any specific case, however, please be aware that employees aren’t put on pre-disciplinary leave for filing grievances.”

8News has spent weeks looking into what past and present colleagues have said about Murphy and his character. 8News found that comments spanned from “a great leader” to “always stood up for his staff.”

Former colleague Quinton Riddick told 8News in a phone interview that Murphy is a stand-up guy. “If he sees something that’s not right, he’s going to say something about it,” he added.

Riddick and others back up Murphy’s accusations of systemic racism within the state agency.

“I think culturally across the board there is a lot of racism in the Department of Corrections,” Riddick said, adding that he was the victim of it. “After 22 years, I got moved to a prison that was three hours and 45 minutes away from home. If I speak up in the same realm as a Black guy, I am toast.”

Murphy knows talking to 8News could get him fired but he felt the public needed to hear his story.

“I just was raised that if you see something that is unfair you say something,” Murphy said.

8News asked the DOC if Murphy’s claims are being investigated? Kinney replied:

“Yes, we investigate every report of inappropriate social media postings and take action when necessary and appropriate. As the largest state agency, with about 12,000 employees, diversity is our strength.”

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