Calls for state civil rights director to step down grow

Michigan Department of Civil Rights Director Agustin Arbulu

Michigan Department of Civil Rights Director Agustin Arbulu speaks in Grand Rapids on May 7, 2019.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Calls for the director of the Michigan agency that investigates discrimination complaints to resign are growing as new details have emerged about inappropriate comments that he has admitted objectified women.

The Civil Rights Commission reprimanded but didn’t fire Department of Civil Rights Director Agustin Arbulu after an investigation into remarks he made to a male staffer during a break at a listening session at a middle school in May.

Documents obtained by news outlets Friday said that the staffer reported that Arbulu told him such things as “would you look at that woman” and said he should “check out” her butt. The staffer said Arbulu then commented on the staffer’s sexual orientation when the staffer objected to Arbulu’s remarks. The staffer reported the comments, which triggered the investigation. Later, Arbulu told an investigator reviewing the incident that he thought the woman in question was his adult daughter, as he was waiting for her to come to the session. He also told the investigator that his daughter “looked hot” when she showed up at a session days later.

Arbulu was appointed in 2013 to the commission by then-Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican. He has been director of the Civil Rights Department since 2015.

Arbulu said his comments were a mistake, but that he’s focused on continuing his work at the department and improving himself.

“I am focusing on the work of the department,” Arbulu said. “We have a lot, especially in the area of equity, which is very important that we work to achieve equity. And that’s a constant initiative that we have. We are not perfect, and equity is something that we strive for.”

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer blasted the commission’s decision to let Arbulu keep his job. Two Democratic state lawmakers, House Minority Leader Christine Greig and Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., have called on Arbulu to step down.

“I think anyone that would objectify their own daughter in that way probably isn’t above doing it to someone else,” Hertel said. “And I think most people would rather resign instead of admitting to this.”

The Department of Civil Rights reviews complaints involving race and gender.

Whitmer asked the commission to explain in writing by Monday why it decided to let Arbulu keep his job.

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