Washington State’s equity director booted over allegations of fat-shaming colleagues, racist remarks

Washington State’s first Office of Equity Director Karen Johnson, who is a longtime activist, was terminated amid accusations of fat-shaming her colleagues and making a series of racist comments against Mexican Americans.

(Video Credit: KING 5 Seattle)

An investigation was conducted into Johnson’s behavior that purportedly led to her being fired on May 17. It revealed a number of complaints about her conduct that included a “perceived to be evidence of bias against Mexicans,” according to a report by Jason Rantz of KTTH.

MFR Law Group PLLC conducted the investigation into Johnson’s behavior and turned up several current and former employees who were upset about her “biased and insensitive conduct.” One employee claimed that she told a “self-identified” Mexican she has a “distrust” of “Mexican people.”

“This may take some time for me because I generally distrust Mexican people,” Johnson allegedly told the employee. “Mexican people have the option of being white when it is convenient for them.”

Another Hispanic employee commented that Johnson had an “us vs. them” mentality when it came to Mexican co-workers. She’s accused of singling them out for not having “lived experiences” of racism.

A number of examples surfaced claiming that she enforced “rules with brass knuckles and a velvet glove,” which the employee who made the charge argued was a “metaphor associated with white supremacy because of its violence.”

Fox News reported, “Other employees said Johnson would often stereotype on the basis of race and gender, with one white female employee claiming the former director told her not to braid her hair because it was ‘cultural appropriation.'”

Another staffer contended that Johnson attacked employees because of their weight.

“You want to be married and have a family, don’t you? If so, you have to take care of you,” Johnson reportedly told the employee.

When the results of the investigation were finalized, Johnson was allegedly given the option to resign or be fired. Her office told KTTH in an interview that she was let go due to “high vacancy rates, high employee turnover, and budgetary concerns,” as well as a “lack of stability.”

“I am absolutely blessed that I got to do this job, and I stand by what I did, and I stand by the community that I was trying to help in my tenure at the Office of Equity,” Johnson stated. “I would hope that [Gov. Jay Inslee] continues to provide employees across the state the opportunities that they deserve and continue the work of accountability to make everyone’s lives better.”

Johnson has denied the allegations and is said to be considering bringing a wrongful termination suit against the state.

The website for the Washington Office of Equity announced that Johnson has been replaced by Megan Matthews, who is currently serving as acting director.

When asked about his decision to terminate Johnson, Gov. Jay Inslee told KING 5 News the office “required leadership to be able to manage the agency appropriately” and “we needed some more leadership there.”

Rantz bluntly commented in his report, “On the one hand, Johnson is a victim of hypersensitive activist employees — the very type of person you’d expect to want to work within the Office of Equity. She should have seen their complaints coming. On the other hand, Johnson failed to play by the rules she wanted to be implemented on state employees. She deserved to be terminated.”

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