Michigan civil rights director takes leave after comments

The embattled director of Michigan's civil rights department is taking a leave of absence after making inappropriate remarks about a woman he saw outside a meeting at a suburban Detroit middle school

LANSING, Mich. -- The embattled director of Michigan's civil rights department has taken a leave of absence, weeks after he was reprimanded for making inappropriate remarks about the appearance of a woman he saw outside a meeting.

The state Civil Rights Commission on Tuesday gave no reason for 69-year-old Agustin Arbulu's request for leave, which was made Monday, nor did it say how long the leave will last or if he will continue to be paid. He earns approximately $159,000 a year.

Arbulu, a Republican, has faced calls to resign from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and others after a male communications analyst for the agency complained that Arbulu repeatedly commented about the woman's appearance during a break from a May listening session on the planned reconfiguration of the Grosse Pointe Public School System in suburban Detroit. The employee, who is gay, said he told Arbulu the statements were not OK and Arbulu responded that "he would not understand because he did not like women."

An investigator reviewing the incident said Arbulu told her if he did make inappropriate comments, he was referring to his adult daughter.

Mary Engelman, deputy director of the Department of Civil Rights, was named acting director by Alma Wheeler Smith, chairwoman of the Civil Rights Commission.

"I'm confident Mary will do an exemplary job of leading the department and guiding our efforts to refocus on the many civil rights challenges that face us," the Democrat said in a written statement.

Whitmer, who does not have the power to dismiss Arbulu, said last week she would no longer let him attend Cabinet meetings and would direct her administration to not directly engage him except to the extent required by law. The panel on July 29 reprimanded Arbulu for the May 29 incident but kept him on the job, ordering him to submit to a training and mentorship program to be completed before year's end. He also was barred from conducting internal or external training sessions for other entities.

Vicki Levengood, a spokeswoman for the civil rights department, said she had no details on Arbulu's leave because the human resources office does not release information on such requests.