Local Man Files Federal Lawsuit Against State For Race, Gender Discrimination As A White Male

The Vermont Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in Newport. (Contributed photo)

An Orleans man has filed a federal lawsuit against his state of Vermont employer because he believes “adverse actions” are happening against him based on his race and gender.

Benjamin Morley, an adult Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at Vermont Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in Newport, filed the suit in U.S. District Court, naming several defendants, including the Governor’s Workforce Equity and Diversity Council, the Vermont Department of Aging and Independent Living and the Vermont Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Morley is being represented by attorney Deborah Bucknam, of Walden.

The complaint alleges that through his employment, “(Morley) has been shamed, humiliated, reprimanded, excluded from assignments and leadership positions, and threatened with termination, because he is a white male.”

The lawsuit claims constitutional rights related to equality, religious freedom and freedom of speech are being violated through “mandatory indoctrination into a political/religious dogma called ‘Diversity Equity and Inclusion.’”

Morley has been employed with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation for two years.

DVR’s Mission is to “help Vermonters with disabilities prepare for, obtain, and maintain meaningful careers and to help employers recruit, train, retain and promote employees with disabilities.” Morley’s duties involve counseling DVR consumers to introduce them to employment and training opportunities to assist them in gaining appropriate employment.

In the lawsuit, Morley asserts he has endured “harassing comments” by female colleagues “with barbs about ‘toxic masculinity’ and ‘mansplaining.’”

He claims he missed out on assignments of new consumers because he is a male counselor. “The implication was that Morley, as a man, is incapable of acting professionally with a female consumer,” the lawsuit notes.

The bulk of the complaint takes aim at Diversity Equity and Inclusion training that was required by his employer.

“The term ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ used by the government defendants is a misnomer,” the complaint states. “The indoctrination imposed by the government defendants espouses neither diversity, equity, or inclusion, but is a racist and dehumanizing dogma which seeks to require participants to ‘buy into’ ‘anti-racist’ ideology through a teaching technique of exploitation of personal emotions and group peer pressure.”

The 15 hours of training was by video and was led by Mirna Valerio “The Mirnavator.” According to her website, she is a former educator, cross-country coach, ultrarunner, obstacle course enthusiast, and author of the recently published memoir, A Beautiful Work in Progress. Her writing has been featured in Women’s Running Magazine, Self Magazine Online, Outside Online, and Runner’s World Magazine. Most recently, she was chosen as a 2018 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.

The lawsuit asserts that despite her accomplishments her experience doesn’t apply to the work of vocational rehabilitation. “Valerio, has no background in human resources, vocational rehabilitation, psychology, sociology or related fields,” the suit notes.

As part of her presentation, terms like “White/whiteness, White people/white privilege, White supremacy/White supremacist ideology and The White Community” were projected on a slide, noted the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, the training offered few specific examples of systemic, pervasive racism and none of them was related to the work of vocational rehabilitation.

Complaining about the training that Morley maintains is indoctrination led to a reaction in the workplace, according to the lawsuit, and an infringement on his First Amendment rights.

“Morley has been the recipient of adverse employment actions, including reprimands and threats to terminate his employment, and reduction in his caseload because of his expressions of his sincerely held beliefs,” the lawsuit notes.

As part of “Supervisory Feedback” given to him in April 2021, it was stated, “Going forward, I am asking you to use better judgement and to refrain from commentary and statements during work that do not foster a safe and inclusive work environment. DVR is moving forward with DEI work, and these trainings are the beginning of that work. DVR leadership feels this work is a core value of DVR and we will continue the DEI track in the future. It is expected that you will take part in related training and/or projects and also not use language that causes your peers great discomfort.”

The lawsuit notes particular concern for a promised “equity audit” that follows the training.

“The proposed equity audit will publicly shame and slander Morley and other white male Americans solely because of their gender and skin color. Upon information and belief, the ‘audit’ will be part of every employee’s personnel evaluation, which will determine continued employment, promotions and pay increases,” according to the complaint.

The defendants in the case have not yet responded to the federal suit.

Bucknam additionally filed a motion for preliminary judgment, asking the court to “order that the Defendants refrain from engaging in any training, seminars workshops, or any other organized indoctrination of DEI dogma.”

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