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Sacked Diversity Chief files lawsuit against MGM Springfield

Former MGM Springfield employee Chelan Brown has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the company and its senior management. The suit alleged that Michael Mathis, MGM Springfield’s previous President, racially discriminated against her. She also accused him of pressuring her to turn in falsified reports concerning the company’s diversity hiring practices to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

During Brown’s time with MGM Springfield, she was tasked with ensuring that the construction workforce hired for MGM Springfield’s $960 million integrated resort was as diverse as the state required. The gaming venue began operations in August 2018.

MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor were given ambitious diversity hiring objectives by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC). The MGC mandated that during construction, each of its casinos was required to make sure women-owned businesses made up a minimum of 10% of the entire construction work. The vendor contract requirement was also placed at 2% for veteran-owned companies.

MGC also tasked the companies with hiring minorities and women to make up at least half its workforce. In late 2018, MGM Resorts’ reported figures to the MGC outpaced the diversity goals with 57.2% minorities hires and 6.2% of hired veterans. Women hiring did not reach the 50% goal of the casino, as only 46% was reported.

MGM Springfield’s achievement was praised by Gayle Cameron, the then gaming commission chairwoman, for its workforce practices. However, Brown, the diversity hiring manager at the time, recently declared that a significant amount of those statistics were inaccurate.

Per her lawsuit, Mathis tried to force Brown to perform illegal acts for him. Her refusal resulted in Brown’s job termination in November 2019.

The former diversity manager further alleged that Mathis responded to her refusal by placing her in a conference services job in which she had no experience and, on several occasions, was criticized in a discriminatory manner. Brown claimed the position was a lower one which required her to work longer hours for lesser pay.

Brown’s attorneys filed the discriminatory lawsuit on November 10 in Hampden Superior Court seeking financial damages for MGM Springfield allegedly discriminating against her. Other charges include being retaliated against by the company’s management, failure to fulfill promises of employment opportunities, breach of contract, and allegedly attempting to force Brown to turn in fraudulent documents to the Massachusetts gaming commission.

Brown filed a separate complaint on September 4 with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination concerning the stated allegations in the lawsuit. MGM Springfield and Mathis, its former president, were indicated as defendants in the suit. While MGC and MGM Resorts have acknowledged Brown’s case, neither has made any public comment.

“President Mathis felt so comfortable with Ms. Brown that he even attempted to employ her to commit illegal acts on his behalf. Her refusal to do so would ultimately mark the beginning of the end for Ms. Brown’s career with the company,” the lawsuit states.

The suit also alleged that Brown was made to attend several corporate events in which Mathis and other executives in MGM consumed and got drunk on alcohol. She claimed that she witnessed him engaging in “overly flirty and inappropriate behavior toward several female workers,” which made her uncomfortable.

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  • “In her role with MGM, Ms. Brown got to know both MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis and [then-MGM Resorts CEO] James Murren. Ms. Brown was featured by both of them as a success and used as an example of MGM’s diversity initiatives and achievements,” the lawsuit continued.

    “As time went on, however, the senior levels of the organization began acting like they were in charge of a fraternity house and not a responsible organization,” Brown’s attorneys concluded.

    Brown got her position at MGM after earning the trust of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission due to her previous role. Before a formal contract was drawn up, the gaming company had printed business cards for the former diversity officer, and Mathis allegedly promised her a salary raise.

    “While working in this position, it became clear to Ms. Brown that reports being provided to the MGC [Mass. Gaming Commission] regarding diversity goals in certain vendor contracts were not being reported accurately to the MGC, and that MGM was not reporting all contracts and dollars spent to the MGC, thereby circumventing diversity spend requirements,” the lawsuit continued.

    Brown reportedly informed the manager of her department, Ryan Geary and Mathis, about the inaccurate reporting numbers. Despite her objections to reporting the figures, the former president allegedly stated that the numbers would be presented to the MGC.

    In a Las Vegas meeting held to discuss MGM’s vendor reporting, Brown was confronted by the company’s Vice President concerning the diversity plan and any possible inadequacies. Despite being told to stay silent on the matter by Geary, the lawsuit stated that Brown “shared the information about the inaccurate reporting, thereby alerting higher corporate authorities to the inaccurate reporting practices being perpetuated on the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.”

    The former diversify officer was told she was not a suitable fit for her role upon her return to Springfield. Mathis allegedly promised her a position as the Government Affairs director at the end of her three-year contract with MGM, but things took a different turn.

    Brown’s only employment opportunity after returning to Springfield was at banquet services. She had no prior experience in the role, and it brought about a 6.34% pay cut. The lawsuit alleged that during her time in the department, she received significant verbal abuse “both on the basis of retaliation and race.”

    Brown and other minority workers faced discrimination by the managers, and she had to work for longer and take inflexible shifts. She reported in writing and verbally the constant abuse, but no actions were taken.

    “This constant berating caused Ms. Brown severe emotional distress for which she required medical attention,” the lawsuit stated.

    Brown’s contract with MGM Springfield was terminated on November 13, 2019, after she was told that she failed to meet the expectations and goals of her job. The lawsuit, however, stated that during her years at MGM Springfield, the former diversity officer had never received any reviews concerning her performance.

    Before her position at MGM, Brown served in several leadership positions revolving around diversity issues. She was notably a part of Alive with Awareness, Knowledge, and Empowerment (AWAKE), a violence prevention organization.

    Brown joined Behavioral Health Network in September 2020, and by March this year, she was appointed as the organization’s Vice President. Her new role tasked her with supervising social justice efforts as well as initiatives.

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