Washington state fires first-ever director of equity after failing to maintain stable work environment

"There were quite a few people who thought I had gone too far," Johnson explained.

Katie Daviscourt Seattle WA
Washington state's first-ever director of equity has been fired by Democrat Governor Jay Inslee for failing to produce a stable work environment, Seattle Times reports.

Karen A. Johnson, who became the state's first director of equity in February 2021, was shocked to learn that she had been fired from her position, claiming that Gov. Inslee's office never came to her with concerns.

Those concerns that ultimately led to her termination included a repeated history of failing to produce a stable work environment, which resulted in a high employee turnover rate, as well as people showing a lack of interest working in the department centered around equity, inclusion, and diversity, according to the outlet.

A spokesperson for Gov. Inslee's office, Mike Faulk, told Seattle Times in a statement that Johnson, "was provided the opportunity to resign and chose separation instead."

"She launched this groundbreaking office and contributed greatly to starting this important work," Faulk said. "However, the office has experienced a lack of stability in agency operations and the work environment, including high vacancy rates, high employee turnover and budgetary concerns."

Faulk told The Times that Gov. Inslee remains "committed to the work and the success of this office moving forward" which will "require new leadership."

Karen Johnson, who was the equity and inclusion administrator for the state Department of Corrections before she was appointed by Inslee in April of 2020, said she was given no warning before her termination and was told by the administration that she could either "resign or be fired," a moment that left Johnson "dumbfounded."

"I was not made aware of those concerns in the meeting as the reasons for the choice to resign or be fired," Johnson told King 5 News.

"Apparently it was perceived I had done enough," Johnson said, who told the outlet that she had much more work to do.

"There were quite a few people who thought I had gone too far," Johnson explained.

Johnson, who remained in the position for two years, said that her office announced plans as recent as last week which would hold state agencies accountable if they failed to prioritize equity, according to King 5 news.

"Our office was saying, ''You can do whatever you want. We're just going to hold you accountable and tell the world…unapologetically,'" Johnson said.

Speaking on being a black woman, Johnson said, "No black person in their right mind…wants to be leading this kind of work, convincing white people they want to do something they have no intention of doing." But said that she was thankful for the opportunity and was told by people from "across the state" that she "gave them a voice."

"That's what I'm most proud of," Johnson told the outlet.

According to the Washington state office of equity website, the primary goals of this department is to "embed equity in state governments" by "promoting access to equitable opportunities, power, and resources that reduce disparities and improve outcomes statewide across government begins with transparency."

While Democratic-run states across the US have created departments centered around equity, inclusion, and diversity, Republican-run states have passed legislation that bans state agencies and institutions from centering policies around race.

Republican gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed legislation into law last week that bans educational institutions and corporations from receiving state funds if they implement equity, inclusion, and diversity-based policies, under the Stop Woke Act.


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