Washington’s first Office of Equity director fired by governor’s office

Dr. Karen Johnson was let go as Washington state’s first director of the Office of Equity. She had served in the position, part of the office of the governor, for more than two years.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office fired Johnson last week, citing a lack of stability and budgetary concerns.

Staffers report Johnson’s last day on the job was May 17.

“Dr. Johnson was provided the opportunity to resign and chose separation instead,” Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk said in an email to The Center Square. “She launched this ground-breaking office and contributed greatly to starting this important work.”

The state created the Office of Equity in 2020.

“However, the office has experienced a lack of stability in agency operations and the work environment, including high vacancy rates, high employee turnover and budgetary concerns,” Faulk continued. “We remain committed to the work and the success of this office moving forward. We determined this will require new leadership.”

Johnson expressed some surprise at being let go.

“Apparently it was perceived I had done enough,” she told KING 5 News, adding she was fired for doing the very thing she was hired to do: shake up government and highlighting inequities in state agencies.

“There were quite a few people who thought I’d gone too far,” Johnson said.

Inslee still backs the office.

“The governor has been incredibly supportive of the Office of Equity’s work,” Faulk said.

Steps are already being taken to find a new director.

“The next director will be expected to provide accountability, implement the governor’s executive orders on equity and help agencies reduce disparities,” Faulk said. “We want the Office of Equity to be an effective and transformative force in government.”

He added in the coming days Inslee will appoint an acting director as the search for a permanent one begins in earnest. In the meantime, Michaela Doelman, State Chief Human Resources Officer, will serve as head of the agency.

According to the Office of Financial Management, the minimum annual salary for the director of the Office of Equity is $92,004, the midpoint salary is $128,808, and the maximum salary is $165,600.

The Revised Code of Washington 43.06D.020 states the purpose of the office is “promoting access to equitable opportunities and resources that reduce disparities, and improve outcomes statewide across state government.”

Elizabeth Troutman contributed to this story.

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