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Ousted D.C. director claims he was told not to hire whites, conservatives

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Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer

The former head of a labor dispute board who resigned last month after admitting that he lived outside the District, in violation of D.C. law, claims that he was forced out for ignoring instructions not to hire white or conservative employees.

Ondray Harris, a former deputy chief in the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, wrote in his March 24 letter that two members of the Public Employee Relations Board opposed his decision to hire a qualified white, politically conservative attorney.

Harris, who is black, writes in the letter that Don Wasserman, who is white, "demanded" that he "refrain from hiring white men."

In an interview with The Washington Examiner on Monday night, Harris said, "When I first came on to the agency there was no diversity in the agency."

Harris said he was initially reluctant to go public with his complaint.

"I'm interested in politics. This is not necessarily something I wanted to make public," he said. But, he added, "I couldn't sit idly by and let this happen."

Harris wrote that another white board member, Ann Hoffman, criticized Harris' decision to hire the conservative attorney because she had work experience, "which they perceived as being conservative or politically right-of-center."

In response to the Nov. 8 confidential executive session meeting, which the other two board members also attended, Harris wrote several months later that he approached the board's counsel, Keturah Harley, requesting legal advice.

"[I]t is intrinsically illegal for the Board to consider hiring or not hiring a potential employee because of their race," Harley wrote in a response to Harris obtained by The Washington Examiner. "Hence, [Harris] must ignore the suggestions by Board Members Wasserman and Hoffman in this regard."

In an interview Monday, Harley, who is now serving as the board's acting director in the place of Harris, said Harris resigned after questions were raised about his D.C. residency.

Pressed with questions about the memo, Harley said, "As general counsel, it's my job to provide advice on all issues that are brought to me."

In his letter of resignation, Harris writes that board members had known for more than a year before he resigned that he lived in Virginia, and that he was actually forced out in "retaliation for my refusal to act contrary to law and for my attempt to protect the constitutional and statutory rights of my employees."

Harley said the board was investigating the accusations internally.

Mayor Vincent Gray's spokesman wrote in an email: "We have urged the Chair to review the allegations, and if found credible, they should be forwarded to the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability and the Office of Humans Rights."

Kris Baumann, head of D.C.'s Fraternal Order of Police, which works closely with the board, said, "If [the allegations are] true, this is the type of behavior that undermines confidence in institutions."

However, Geo Johnson -- executive director of the local affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which also works closely with the board -- dismissed the allegations.

"When people are angry and people are upset, they say things," Johnson said. "[Harris] had a choice. [He] had 180 days to move into the District of Columbia. You decided not to do that. Now all of a sudden you want to throw rocks at everybody."

Members of the board, including Wasserman and Hoffman, could not be reached for comment Monday.

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

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