Often times, when women gather around and partaken in balloons and cake replicating a male penis, it’s usually at a friend’s bachelorette party, not where you work, especially if it’s a morgue facility. But, that seemed to be the case for a group of female employees at Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office (Michigan), who have now been fired or placed on paid leave, pending an investigation into allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The job loss comes after one of their co-workers, a Macomb County death investigator and personal of color, filed an official complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) citing several years of “racially insensitive comments, dick jokes, harassment,” and a penis cake to top it off.
According to her complaint, the day after George Floyd was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis, an off-duty morgue employee brought a “medium-sized sheet cake that had been decorated with a black penis,” and left it in their break room. Days later, the cake was still in the room, but with balloons that someone had decorated with a hand-drawn penis.
“I was livid, furious actually,” she told the Free-Press. “All these cities are on fire for the Black Lives Matter movement, and here’s my staff eating a black penis cake as a joke? That really pushed me over the edge.”
In the ensuing weeks, the investigator made multiple attempts to avoid the co-workers responsible by working weekends, moving to the night shift, and changing her desk to a different office area. But, this changed nothing; in fact, it made matters worse.
“I felt that it was so egregious, so out of line and so brazenly conducted on a daily basis—and nobody cared,” she said.
In turn, she filed a complaint with the EEOC and Macomb County in mid-July. In the complaint, she stated:
“There has been an ongoing hostile work environment within the Medical Examiner’s Office since I have been here. The office culture is tainted with racism toward people of color. This was not only ignored by managing personnel but participated in by the supervising staff.”
Along with “sexual nature, all-nude photographs, and drawings of male genitalia,” the woman said she had experienced racially motivated harassment as well. In her complaint, she claimed that when Black families would come to the facility, she was instructed to “Go deal with your people.”
One of the more disturbing incidents mentioned in the complaint occurred when a Black couple had a hard time confirming that a decomposed body was their son. As a result, one of the morgue employees reportedly told the investigator to “show them a picture of his penis” because “maybe they’ll recognize him by that.”
Another example stated that earlier in the summer when a devastated family damaged a door at the morgue, a supervisor asked the investigators, “Are they Black? […] They can break the door, and nothing will happen to them with everything going on, because they are Black.”
“There is no tolerance for that type of conduct or behavior,” Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said, after firing the three female morgue employees for showing photos of nude men in the workplace and for using obscene pictures as their computer screensavers.
“We take this super-serious and took action on the substance of the claims,” Andrew McKinnon, the county Human Resources Director, said in a statement. “We want our employees to feel comfortable to come forward if they feel there is something inappropriate going on in the workplace. We want everyone to feel included, safe, and accepted in [the] Macomb County government.” (The men added that the county “did not substantiate” the investigator’s allegations of racial discrimination or harassment.)
Four years earlier, a former Macomb County morgue employee filed a complaint with the EEOC, citing sexual harassment in the office. She has since been fired. Her case is still pending.