St. Louis County’s diversity director has filed a whistleblower lawsuit, alleging her recent firing was an act of whistleblower retaliation, according to an October 17 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article.
Hazel Erby, “a longtime member of the St. Louis County Council and the first Black woman to serve on the legislative body,” claims that she was dismissed on August 18 of this year for “publicly complaining about minority exclusion in county contracts,” according to the article. Some of these contracts were for building a $1.67 million emergency morgue as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, and, according to the whistleblower lawsuit, “less than $1,000 went to minority contractors” and out of the 12 contractors hired, “only one met the minority-inclusion requirements.” Erby’s office was allegedly not allowed to view the contracting bids. When Erby brought up her concerns, she was eventually told that “she and her office would no longer be involved in the contracting process at all, including M/WBE enforcement,” according to the article.
Erby previously publicly criticized County Executive Sam Page, stating that Page, who fired her, “didn’t value the work of Black women.” Page emailed Erby in August, stating: “Your role was not originally designed to take over the M/WBE [minority- and women-owned enterprises] program from the Procurement Division nor was that what either of us wanted at the time,” according to an August St. Louis Post-Dispatch article. However, Erby claims in the lawsuit that Page “knowingly hired her in part to enforce a county ordinance requiring minority inclusion in contracts,” according to the October 17 article. The ordinance was “a county statute that Mrs. Erby championed when she was on the council, and that Sam Page hired her to enforce as part of his administration,” said Erby’s attorney Josh Pierson. “Once she was there and insisted on compliance, apparently the county didn’t like that,” said Pierson.
The lawsuit claims that Erby voiced her concerns about minority exclusion to Page on multiple occasions and alleges that the county continuously “violated the minority-inclusion ordinance throughout Erby’s tenure as diversity director…accepting bids from contractors who didn’t meet the requirements and allowing them to continue working on the project,” according to the article.
Page’s spokesman has yet to respond to the suit.