Embattled Michigan civil rights chief takes indefinite leave

By: - August 20, 2019 4:26 pm

Agustin Arbulu

Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) Director Agustin Arbulu has taken an indefinite leave of hiatus after a scandal in which it was revealed that he made sexist comments to a coworker.

Arbulu will be replaced by his deputy, Mary Engelman, who will now serve as acting director of the MDCR. A spokesperson for the department said she was “not in a position to speak to the particulars of his leave request.”

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) had previously reprimanded Arbulu for his remarks and he was undergoing a training and mentorship program. The commission has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 27, in Detroit to discuss making public an attorney general opinion on the complaint against Arbulu.

MCRC Chair Alma Wheeler Smith, a former longtime state lawmaker, said in a statement Tuesday that she is “confident Mary will do an exemplary job of leading the Department and guiding our efforts to refocus on the many civil rights challenges that face us.”

Whitmer boots civil rights chief from cabinet meetings, urges him to resign

Arbulu faced widespread calls for his resignation after details of his sexist comments were revealed, including from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who banned him from meetings of her cabinet. Arbulu allegedly made repeated comments about women’s appearances to an aide, and told that aide that “he would not understand because he did not like women.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at Affirmations in Ferndale, June 3, 2019 | Derek Robertson

In Whitmer’s call for his resignation, she said, “I hold the members of my cabinet to the highest standard,” and that she was additionally “directing [her] administration to not directly engage the director except to the extent required by law.”

The Rev. Wendell Anthony, Detroit NAACP chapter president, and House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) are among other leaders who have said Arbulu should step aside.

Engelman also is director of the Michigan Women’s Commission. She was appointed to that position in November 2016 by former Gov. Rick Snyder.

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Derek Robertson
Derek Robertson

Derek Robertson is a former reporter for the Advance. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.