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Black chief diversity officer lost job after flagging racial bias

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Joseph B. Hill was four days from starting a new position as vice president, chief equity, diversity and inclusion officer at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, when he received an email that changed the trajectory of his career.

The two-sentence note from Memorial Hermann’s human resources vice president, Lori Knowles, which was obtained by NBC News, read, “We regret to inform you that we are rescinding the offer of employment dated July 21, 2021. … We appreciate your interest in the position and wish you much success going forward.”

“It was a shock, to say the least,” Hill said. “I was floored.”

He was dumbfounded further when his lawyer, Mark Oberti of Houston, was told two weeks later over the phone the reasons Memorial Hermann invalidated its offer: that Hill “was not a good fit,” although he went through more than a dozen interviews over six weeks before he was offered the job. Oberti was also told by the company’s lawyer that it was uncomfortable with Hill inquiring about hiring staff to build his team; that Hill wanted a larger relocation budget; that he rented and charged a luxury car to the company; and that he was overall “too sensitive about race issues.”

“The reasons they listed were just as shocking as rescinding the offer,” Hill said.

He felt that way because, he said, much of what Memorial Hermann indicated was “false and nonsensical,” but also because “they didn’t even contact me to discuss their so-called issues.”

Executives at Memorial Hermann declined to comment but issued a statement that read, in part: “We continue to make great strides in enhancing equity, diversity and inclusion within our system, but we know there is always more that can be done — which is why we are recruiting for a Chief EDI Officer.”

Hill’s case draws into focus concerns some experienced Black DEI officers expressed about the overall commitment by employers to making internal changes. After the social justice movement following the murder of George Floyd, many business leaders announced plans to address diversity imbalance in the workforce by hiring DEI personnel.

However, the pledge to do so has gone unfulfilled on the director level, according to a report examining diversity in 2,868 American workplaces. The report indicated the percentage of Black DEI directors barely increased: from 11.3 percent in 2020 and 11.5 percent for 2021.