A Black social worker is suing the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, alleging a supervisor made a racially insensitive remark about jewelry she was wearing.
“Why do you wear so many bracelets? Is it because you want to become a slave again?” Mark Wing C. Cheung, a DCFS assistant regional administrator and co-defendant in the suit, allegedly asked plaintiff Jennifer Jackson Warren.
Warren seeks unspecified damages in the suit filed Thursday.
The department issued a statement saying it “is a culturally inclusive employer where we seek to maintain a supportive environment that promotes excellence in our workforce. Racially insensitive language or hostility violate county policy and such allegations will be investigated. If substantiated, violations may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.”
Warren was hired by the DCFS around February 1999 and currently works as a children’s social worker finding homes for abused and neglected children, the suit states.
Cheung’s alleged remark came Feb. 13, 2020, when Warren walked into an office of supervisors of the DCFS Accelerated Placement Team, to which the plaintiff was assigned, according to the suit.
Cheung looked at a decorative bracelet Warren was wearing and made the alleged statement “in a loud and voluminous tone for the entire room to hear,” according to the suit.
After hearing what Cheung said, Warren “felt a tremendous sense of shame, embarrassment and humiliation. She was left breathless and shocked into temporary silence,” the suit states.
Warren looked around the room at all the other DCFS supervisors present, “but no one said a word and not a single supervisor interjected,” the suit states.
Warren tried to compose herself and she asked Cheung why he asked the question, to which he responded, “They would put bracelets on the slaves each time they were sold in order to count the times the slaves were sold,” the suit states.
Cheung then left the room, at which time another supervisor told Warren, “I don’t think he meant it like that,” the suit states.
None of the supervisors apologized to Warren or reprimanded Cheung for his racist conduct, according to the suit.
“For the rest of that day, Ms. Warren was in extreme shock as she could not believe what was said to her,” the suit states.
“Ms. Warren could not believe that the practice of racial profiling was occurring in her place of work, a place where she expected to feel safe from prejudice and racism.”
Warren felt sick to her stomach and in a constant state of stress and anxiety for the rest of the day, the suit states. She filed a complaint the next day to all of the supervisors present and only one apologized and also promised to send her protest to upper management, the suit states.
A few days later in response to a separate complaint Warren filed, a representative from the Board of Supervisors called Warren, asked her a few questions about the incident and said he would be in contact, the suit states.
Cheung later admitted he should not have made the statement and told Warren, “I was praying during my devotion time yesterday. I was struck by the spirit that I said something was hurtful to you in the other day regarding the bracelet. I was very insensitive when I said things without thinking. Please forgive my ignorance and accept my apology,” according to the suit.
Warren took four days off at the direction of her psychiatrist and she was so scarred by Cheung’s remark she does not wear the bracelet any more, even though she previously liked wearing them and the one she donned that day was given to her by her children and grandchildren and is special to her, the suit states.
Warren believes Cheung has made prior racial remarks to other employees of different ethnicities and that the DCFS did nothing about those incidents either, the suit states.
Warren, like Cheung, is still employed with the county and has trouble sleeping and concentrating, the suit states. She also suffers from depression, headaches and severe stress, the suit states.