Ex-Macomb medical examiner's investigator sues officials, claims harassment, retaliation

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George Hunter, The Detroit News
·4 min read
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Apr. 5—MOUNT CLEMENS — A former investigator with the Macomb County Medical Examiner's Office is suing the directors of multiple county agencies, claiming they allowed a work environment that was "sexually charged and tainted by racial animus."

Attorneys for Anjanette Beaver filed the suit Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Among the allegations made are that staff "made offensive sexual and racist comments of the anatomy of deceased persons and their families."

Macomb County Corporation Counsel John Schapka denied the claims made in the lawsuit.

"It appears plaintiff Beaver is just another hopeful opportunist on the road of life," Schapka said.

The lawsuit names as defendants Medical Examiner Daniel Spitz, Human Resources and Labor Relations Director Andrew McKinnon, former Health Department Director William Ridella, and former county operations managers Patricia Roland and Jacqueline Fontenot.

Roland was one of four employees fired last year after an investigation was launched into an email Beaver wrote to county officials, in which she complained that the Medical Examiner's Office was allowing employees to display sexually explicit photographs, keep pornographic screensavers on county computers, and make racist comments against African Americans.

Schapka said county officials immediately took action after Beaver reported her co-workers' behavior.

"She raised an initial complaint about female co-employees displaying sexually explicit imagery in the office, and within 30 minutes of her complaint, the county suspended the four employees," Schapka said. "Within two weeks, the offenders were terminated."

Beaver's July email also accused staff of ignoring COVID-19 safety precautions, charges that resulted in the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration in February finding four serious violations related to the training and use of respirators. The state fined the county $6,300.

In a March 14 resignation letter to McKinnon, Beaver wrote that her supervisors had retaliated against her for sending the email.

"The County has done little to remedy the hostile environment or other unlawful conduct at the Medical Examiner's Office," she wrote. "Instead, the County emboldened Medical Examiner Spitz, and others, to retaliate against me in the hope that I quit.

"This has caused me enormous distress and fear, which is intolerable," Beaver wrote. "Because of the intolerable working conditions at the Medical Examiner's Office, I consider myself constructively discharged, effective immediately."

According to the lawsuit, although Beaver's allegations resulted in multiple firings, "Macomb County did not discipline, admonish, or investigate Spitz in spite of his unlawful conduct in the systemic creation, cultivation, encouragement, nurturance, and tolerance of a blatantly hostile work environment based upon sex, race, and his intentional acts of retaliation."

Spitz, who is not a county employee, also heads the St. Clair County Medical Examiner's Office. Both Macomb and St. Clair counties hired Spitz through his private company, Spitz Pathology Group, which is in the last year of a four-year $1.6 million contract with Macomb County.

After the employees were fired by Macomb County, Spitz hired three of them to work for him in St. Clair County.

In the lawsuit, echoing allegations in her email to county officials last year, Beaver claimed staff members often hung up photos of penises, and that they brought a black phallus-shaped cake into the office.

The lawsuit claims that behavior went on "with the approval, encouragement, and participation of supervisors, including Defendants Spitz and Roland ... staff who participated in the unlawful conduct were favored while those who refused to participate or otherwise objected were bullied, ridiculed, demeaned and/or discharged."

The lawsuit alleges a former morgue investigator, identified as "M.E." was fired the day after she complained that Roland and another employee called her a "'lezbo,' 'gay,' and other degrading, demeaning, unlawful, hurtful and offensive statements."

The lawsuit is the latest controversy involving Spitz, who refused six requests and one subpoena to appear before the Macomb County Board of Commissioners in 2013 after some commissioners questioned whether he took on too much of a workload heading two county medical examiner's offices.

In October 2010, Spitz performed an autopsy on David Widlak and ruled the cause of death undetermined. The next day, an independent autopsy found a gunshot wound in the back of the victim's head.