Racist repartee found in state emails has prompted a consumer group to call for the firing of the employees who wrote the correspondence and to request a government investigation into bias at their department.
The emails by William Bosan and Theo Johnson, both Department of Toxic Substances Control employees, run from to mid-2013 to the beginning of this year. The emails contain derogatory remarks about people with ethnic names, accents and the poor.
Neither man could be reached for comment.
Consumer Watchdog, which found the emails in a batch of other records it had requested, made the emails public on its website Wednesday. The organization also posted its letter to Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León demanding “full disclosure and a full investigation” of racial bias within the department.
“We think you will agree that it’s outrageous that those charged with protecting communities would slander them with racist stereotypes,” the organization’s consumer advocate, Liza Tucker, wrote in the letter to de León.
De León issued a statement Wednesday calling the emails “appalling and inappropriate” and said he has talked to California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Matthew Rodriquez “regarding this very troubling matter,” received assurances that the employees have been disciplined and that “this is not widespread behavior at DTSC.”
Cal EPA oversees the Department of Toxic Substances Control.
De León also said he wants an independent panel “to review this issue because this type of attitude towards minorities should never be tolerated.”
Toxics Director Barbara Lee also issued a statement denouncing the “unacceptable” emails that “violate state and department policies and do not reflect the behavior we expect of our staff and management.”
In a May 14, 2013 exchange for example, Bosan mocked the ethnic name of a Toxics colleague: “Mommy must have had way too many pain killer when she named this guy ...”
And on Oct. 26, 2014, this exchange over a document references a submissive Asian character from the TV western “Bonanza”:
Bosan: “That’s why I didn’t convert it to PDF ... chop-chop, Hop Sing!”
Johnson: “No food for you tonight, Mstr Hoss!”
A department colleague with a foreign name sent an email that used “in door” instead of “indoor” on April 30, 2015, providing grist for this correspondence mocking ethnic accents:
Johnson: “I even know how to spell ‘in door’ air. Ges joo ned a secal clas in ingris.”
Bosan: “But, uz doesn’t understand; thez talk bout off-gassin from holler doors, in door aid, uz dumas ...”
Lee said that the emails were discovered last spring, triggering an internal probe and a “broader investigation” by the attorney general’s office.
“I have also made it clear to the entire Department that my expectation is that we treat all people with respect and professionalism at all times,” Lee’s statement says.
The Toxics Department for many years has been buffeted by criticism that it has failed to adequately regulate polluters or clean up waste sites. Consumer Watchdog has been among the most vocal critics. Last summer it opposed Lee’s Senate confirmation to head the department.
“Though dozens of advocates reported they had met with her and heard reassurances but seen no action from Ms. Lee on permit denials and toxic site cleanups,” Tucker stated in her letter to de León, “You confirmed her anyway.”
The group claims that other emails with racist comments exist but that Lee has deemed them personnel documents outside the bounds of public records disclosure law.