Civil Rights Commission Reverses Decision on Cleveland Epidemiologist Who Alleged Discrimination

click to enlarge CLEVELAND CITY HALL, ERIK DROST/FLICKRCC
Cleveland City Hall, Erik Drost/FlickrCC
The Ohio Civil Rights Commission has reversed its decision in the case of a Cleveland Department of Public Health epidemiologist who alleged that her supervisor had harassed and disrespected her based on her age and country of origin, (Colombia). Based on new testimony, the Commission has now ruled that there is probable cause to suggest Karen Aluma was subjected to unequal treatment.

Aluma filed charges with the Commission in September, 2019, alleging that as an employee of CDPH she was subjected to extra scrutiny, that her sick time was questioned and that she was assigned menial tasks which her coworkers were not. Aluma's colleagues corroborated the allegations, saying that her supervisor, Katie Romig, was dismissive of her work and made disrespectful comments about her accented English. Scene reported on Aluma's grievances as part of a larger investigation into a culture of discrimination at CDPH this Summer. 

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission ruled in May that there was insufficient evidence ("No Probable Cause") to suggest that Aluma was treated unfairly due to her age or nationality. The Commission agreed that there was a "tense working relationship" between Aluma and Romig, but that Romig's behavior was not motivated by Aluma's class membership.

In an August 27 document shared with Scene, the Commission reversed its decision. New affidavits from two CDPH employees who also worked under Romig corroborated Aluma's allegations. This new evidence, the Commission wrote, refuted Romig's initial claim that Aluma's charges were "utterly without merit" and challenged the "integrity and impartiality" of CDPH's internal investigation into the matter.

The new statements came from employees Stephanie Pike-More and Dreyon Wynn, both of whom have pending cases of their own with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (they allege the city retaliated against them for speaking on Aluma's behalf) and whose experiences were featured in Scene's CDHPH exposé.

The city of Cleveland declined to comment on the Ohio Civil Rights commission finding and said the city's own internal investigation is ongoing. Spokesperson Nancy Kelsey also confirmed that Austin Opalich, a labor relations manager for the city who handled the initial investigation, had resigned.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission, under its rules, is required to attempt to reconcile or settle the case following this finding. If that fails, a formal complaint and the case are sent to the Civil Rights Section of the Ohio Attorney General's office for a civil prosecution, according to Mary Turocy, director of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement for the OCRC.


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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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