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In Arroyo firing, some see disparate treatment

Yawu Miller | 10/11/2017, 12:48 p.m.
Just weeks after a worker under his supervision alleged that Felix G. Arroyo had sexually harassed her, Mayor Martin Walsh ...
Mayor Martin Walsh fired Felix G. Arroyo in August. Banner photo

Just weeks after a worker under his supervision alleged that Felix G. Arroyo had sexually harassed her, Mayor Martin Walsh fired Arroyo from his post as chief of Health and Human Services.

Yet two city employees indicted for extortion by a federal grand jury have remained on the city’s payroll for more than a year. The difference in treatment between Arroyo, who was fired without an opportunity to respond to any specific charges, and the city’s tourism chief, Kenneth Brissette and its head of intergovernmental affairs, Timothy Sullivan — both of whom were indicted in July 2016 — has some activists complaining of disparate treatment.

“At the Lawyers’ Committee, we are concerned that the highest-ranking Latino in city government was terminated while an investigation remains pending, even though white employees have remained in place during the course of a federal investigation,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. “Though the facts may be different, the policy surrounding termination or administrative leave for employees in City Hall should be clear, transparent and uniform.”

Arroyo was put on paid leave July 28, after Hilani Morales, an employee in Health and Human Services filed a complaint with the city’s Human Resources Department. Arroyo was then fired August 24, after Morales filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination naming him, the City of Boston and Mayor Martin Walsh. The MCAD complaint has not yet had a hearing. Typically, cases filed with the state agency can take as long as two years before a finding is reached.

Harassment charges, rapid dismissal

In her MCAD complaint, Morales alleges that Arroyo sexually harassed her repeatedly from when she was hired in 2015 through 2017.

In his response to Morales’ MCAD complaint, Arroyo denies her claims, cites witnesses and offers as evidence text messages and emails from Morales. The text messages show that during the time Morales says Arroyo was harassing her, she offered him unsolicited rides to work, which he declined, wished him a happy Valentine’s Day and exchanged and initiated other friendly messages with Arroyo and other Human Services staff.

City officials repeatedly have refused to give the Banner a specific reason for Arroyo’s termination, referring a reporter to a statement spokeswoman Laura Oggeri released Aug. 24.

“Felix Arroyo has been terminated from the City of Boston after a comprehensive internal investigation,” the statement reads in its entirety.

Brissette and Sullivan were indicted for extortion in 2016 after they allegedly pressured the organizers of the Boston Calling music festival into hiring union stage hands by threatening to withhold city permits for the event. Walsh subsequently told reporters he was “deeply concerned” about the indictments, and placed both employees on paid administrative leave. Brissette and Sullivan both earn more than $100,000 a year. Paying their salaries will cost the city $350,000 by the time they head to trial in January, according to New England Cable News.

Judy Meredith, a longtime Dorchester political activist, said Arroyo’s firing is “just not fair” in light of the mayor’s decision to retain Brissette and Sullivan.

“I’m very disappointed in Marty because he fired Felix Arroyo before any formal investigation finished,” she said. “At the same time he’s been keeping on for more than a year two very nice white guys who’ve been indicted by a federal grand jury.”

Arroyo’s firing, in the weeks before preliminary balloting in this year’s mayoral race, has raised concerns among some that the Latino community is not being taken seriously.

“He was the only high-ranking Puerto Rican in the City of Boston,” said Tony Molina, president of the Puerto Rican Veterans Monument Square Association. “We feel he should have been given a chance to make his case.”

Arroyo, who gave up an at-large Boston City Council seat to run for mayor in 2013, supported Walsh’s candidacy in the general election that year.

State Rep. Russell Holmes said he is “not pleased” that Arroyo was terminated. The fact that he was fired while facing harassment charges will damage his career, Holmes said.

“Even if he’s found to be innocent, his reputation is substantially damaged,” Holmes commented.