Wisconsin DOJ official alleges racial, gender harassment
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A top Wisconsin Department of Justice administrator filed a federal complaint alleging that she’s being underpaid and harassed at work because she’s a Black woman.
DOJ Division of Law Enforcement Services Administrator Tina Virgil filed the complaint on April 16 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seeking an unspecified amount of lost wages, damages and legal fees.
“This ongoing harassment and the DOJ’s unwillingness to put a stop to it has caused me emotional distress, anxiety, and other health challenges,” Virgil wrote in the complaint.
Virgil has worked at the Justice Department for 28 years, serving as the state fire marshal and director of the department’s Special Investigations Bureau. Attorney General Josh Kaul appointed her as law enforcement services division administrator in January 2019. The division oversees criminal records, firearm background checks and officer training.
According to her complaint, Virgil is the only Black administrator in the DOJ. Her salary when she began her new position in 2019 was less than her white predecessor’s pay and she remains the second-lowest paid administrator at the agency, the complaint alleges. She’s also paid less than some deputy administrators and directors who are white but rank beneath her.
Virgil goes on to allege that since she took over the position, she has encountered a hostile work environment marked by Deputy Attorney General Eric Wilson’s angry outbursts whenever she or another woman disagrees with him. She says Wilson also micro-manages her and other female employees, has accused her of maintaining special relationships with other female employees and circumvented her authority as an administrator by sending orders through her male subordinates.
Other white male administrators also have harassed her, Virgil alleges. For instance, Division of Criminal Investigation Administrator Brian O’Keefe recorded phone calls with her as part of what she called “an unsuccessful attempt to initiate an adverse employment action against me.”
The complaint notes that an unidentified whistleblower brought the pay inequities and harassment to Kaul’s attention, resulting in an investigation by an outside attorney. A report was finished in May 2020, but Virgil says her open records requests for it have been unsuccessful and the department hasn’t taken any action.
Department spokeswoman Gillian Drummond told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Virgil is currently the sixth-highest paid of Kaul’s 10 appointees, at $116,022 per year, up $4,500 from the start of 2019.
Drummond told the newspaper that Virgil makes less than her predecessor because the DOJ moved the state crime lab out of the Division of Law Enforcement Services Division when she was appointed to the administrator post in 2019. The move reduced the number of division employees by 60%, Drummond said.
“We are confident that the salary is appropriate,” Drummond said in an email to The Associated Press on Monday. She added that DOJ officials have offered to have an outside agency perform a salary review, but Virgil hasn’t accepted that offer.
Asked for comment on the offer, Virgil’s attorney, Lester Pines, responded with a one-sentence email: “The Attorney General has the authority to set the salaries of the division administrators he appoints.”
As for the hostile work environment claims, Drummond said in her email to the AP that the department has addressed some managerial issues, but that most of the evidence didn’t support Virgil’s claims.
The complaint comes as Kaul, a Democrat, is gearing up for reelection next year. Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney and law professor Ryan Owens are vying for the Republican nomination.
Toney issued a statement Monday saying the alleged harassment and discrimination represent a “troubling example” of Kaul’s failed leadership. Owens’ campaign didn’t immediately respond to a message.
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