Former Delaware County Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) officer Lauren Footman told DVJournal that Delco’s elected Democrats viewed her office as a “campaign promise,” and the work they prioritized was more “PR stunt” than addressing inclusion issues in county government.

Footman made her comments during a podcast interview Tuesday, a day after news broke that Delaware County had fired her from the DEI post after just 20 months on the job. Her firing came in the wake of her allegations of racial discrimination by her boss, Chief Administrative Officer Marc Woolley.

According to Footman, while she was supposed to be promoting diversity and equity in county government, she encountered unfair treatment herself. “Like the time I was being told I wasn’t getting help because I wasn’t my ‘attractive White woman’ counterpart,” she told DVJournal.

Asked about the mission of the Delco DEI efforts, Footman said, “It’s very key to acknowledge that I was a campaign promise of certain council members at the time.”

“There were certain council members, particularly the individuals who identify as women on council — Dr. Monica Taylor, Elaine Schaefer and Christine Reuther — who said that they were prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion when they ran for office.”

And, Footman noted, she got the most encouragement from the council, not for DEI training of county employees, but when she was working on media-friendly “external events.”

“Whether it was Black History Month, Pride month, Juneteenth, MLK Day — that was where I really got the most support. A lot of the things that were a part of my job description that were more in-house [like DEI training], were not the primary focus of the council.”

Asked by DVJournal if what was happening with the DEI section “was just a PR stunt,” Footman replied: “In retrospect, I definitely think it was.”

Taylor, Schaefer, and Reuther did not respond to DVJournal’s request for comment about Footman’s allegations.

A clip of the Delaware Valley Journal podcast with Lauren Footman.

Former Delco Council Chair Wallace Nunn, however, agreed Footman’s hiring was to score political points with the electorate. “They’ve hired someone for everything,” he told DVJournal. “In the last two years…they took [payroll] from $162 million to $188 million.”

She recounted one particularly cringeworthy moment this February, just a few weeks after she was fired. “The Black History Month theme or focus of this year was Richard [Womack] and Monica honoring themselves, because they are Black history. On the taxpayer’s dollar. Really,” Footman said.

“They said they are Black history and had people come and honor them — with a $60 million [county budget] deficit. They had cake, cupcakes, and cobbler.”

Councilors Taylor and Richard Womack are Delco’s two Black council members. The ceremony included the presentation of a state Senate resolution from Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D-Delaware).

“A little self-serving,” Nunn chuckled. “I’m sure [Taylor and Womack] are honorable people. I’m not sure that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about honoring Black History Month. They’re not history yet.”

For months, DVJournal has been requesting data about how much Delco officials were spending on DEI efforts, as well as any evidence county government has engaged in unfair treatment of job seekers or citizens in need of services. Footman acknowledged the county had received DVJ’s requests and was refusing to respond to them.

In fact, she claimed, she was denied the data as well.

“The data was supposed to be our friend,” Footman said. “One of the things that we kept trying to push for was, Philadelphia created a dashboard that would’ve addressed the exact question that [DVJournal was] asking. They would not give us the access to the data.”

Delco’s spokesperson Adrienne Marofsky denied the county’s DEI commitment was mere PR.

Marofsky told DVJournal the council wanted “to build a more equitable county, where diversity, equity, and inclusion are recognized as core values that drive decision-making, resource allocation, and the development of policies and practices.” She added that DEI will be infused into the county’s practices.

Marofsky did not answer questions on whether Delco officials were more interested in public, press-grabbing events instead of policy changes.

Delaware County conducted an internal investigation of Footman’s complaint that cleared Woolley. But Footman filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) while on leave last November saying that her work environment led to increased anxiety and depression.

She was fired in January, days after returning from leave. Footman said her EEOC complaint was referenced in her firing.

The county said otherwise.

“We can confirm that Lauren Footman’s employment was terminated, effective Jan. 19, 2024, for reasons unrelated to filing an EEOC complaint,” said Marofsky. “The county is vigorously defending itself in the EEOC proceedings.”

Marofsky vowed that DEI remained part of Delco’s policy infrastructure. She also promised the county would hire another DEI officer. “We are proud of our accomplishments and are looking forward to continuing that meaningful work.”

Footman scoffed at the idea that council members care about DEI. “All of [these] council decisions [are] based on the political calendar and bad press.”

Delco has refused to reveal information on its DEI practices including hiring numbers, targeted numbers, and salary information to DVJournal. A request made under Pennsylvania’s Right To Know law was denied in February with the county claiming that it had “no records that are responsive to your quest.”

An appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records is pending.