Ex-mayoral staffer alleges discrimination

A former employee of St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights […]

A former employee of St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has filed a complaint alleging discrimination and a lack of accommodations. Hope Hoffman, 23, also testified last month before a Minnesota Senate committee along with others alleging work-related discrimination. 

Hope Hoffman has spina bifida. She has trouble walking. She is the daughter of Sen. John Hoffman (DFL-Champlain). At the hearing, the senator said he wants more scrutiny of how people with disabilities are treated in the workplace. He is introducing a bill this session centered on disability accommodations in the workplace. 

Hoffman worked for Carter for about five months as a policy associate. She said she repeatedly asked for information about the amount of walking she’d have to do for different aspects of her job. She wears a prosthetic on her right leg, which was amputated two years ago, and a brace on her left leg. 

“After my request was ignored my managers’ treatment changed towards me and the kinds of work I was asked to do changed,” Hoffman said. “I was asked to clean up conference tables with trays and pictures they knew I couldn’t carry and then embarrassed me in front of other employees, berating me to ask them for help.” 

Hoffman said she took her concerns directly to Carter, who told her he’d look into it. But the lack of follow up was a frustration. She resigned in October 2019 and last month filed a discrimination complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. 

Sen Jim Abeler (R-Anoka) apologized for the problems Hope Hoffman and others raised at the hearing. 

Carter said he has asked for the city’s human rights staff to launch a third-party investigation into Hope Hoffman’s situation. “I’m disheartened our efforts to ensure Ms. Hoffman’s success were not enough to make her feel supported,” he said in a statement. 

Hoffman spent three years as an appointee of the governor’s Young Women’s Cabinet. She has long had an interest in public policy. 

But at St. Paul City Hall, Hoffman dealt with situations where there wasn’t accessible parking and where she lacked clear directions to find Carter. She asked her manager, Cherisse Turner, for help and was told by Turner to “use Google earth” to find accessible parking. She also asked about events that didn’t require much walking. The working relationship between her and Turner deteriorated. 

Hoffman filed a workplace conduct complaint against Turner in October 2019. The city’s Human Resource staff responded by saying that while Hoffman’s complaint didn’t warrant an investigation, but also said her bosses didn’t do enough to address the requests for accommodations. 

The mayor’s office has countered that Hoffman was issued a government placard that granted her special parking privileges on the job. She was allowed to park in one of two spots at City Hall that were reserved for the mayor. She was also given a computer tablet that was easier to carry and allowed her to work from home occasionally. 

The city contends that Hoffman also received information about how to formally request accommodations for her disability. But that did not happen until she was on the brink of resigning. The city’s accommodation coordinator attached the proper forms to a letter October 15, a month after Hoffman’s first request. 

Sources: WCCO-TV, Minneapolis Star Tribune

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